King City learns from shutdown, adapts to pandemic conditions
King City government is relying more on virtual communication, while the town's police department is adjusting its protocol ever slightly, as we move through the COVID-19 pandemic.
This means virtual City Council meetings and, for the police department, a change in the system of responding to police calls.
"The function of the city hasn't changed that much," Mayor Ken Gibson said, noting the city made a big change several weeks ago by closing City Hall to the public. "Our municipal court has probably been impacted the most by the closure."
The court has been closed since March, with all proceedings on hold.
"That creates a backlog of cases," Gibson added.
In-person meetings have largely been supplanted by virtual meetings.
"I've never spent so much time on my computer," Gibson said. "We're having at least three virtual meetings a week."
As an example, Gibson will meet virtually every Monday with other mayors and the chair of Washington County.
"I had our first-ever virtual meeting with HOA (homeowners' association) presidents of King City," he said. "That's the first time I have had an opportunity to actually meet with them. I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but it became easier to do it virtually."
Another way the city is adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic is by holding its City Council meetings virtually, too.
"This has definitely changed quite a bit," said Ronnie Smith, King City's city recorder. "If somebody wants to get updates on when the city council meetings are, they can go to our website and sign up for 'alerts.' I set up the agenda and packet, put it on the website."
These City Council meetings are livestreamed on YouTube. Details are found on the city website, and citizens can comment at these virtual meetings by calling into Smith's voicemail. These voicemails can be presented at the council meeting, letting King City's elected officials hear from their constituents even at a distance.
Gibson will hold his annual State of the City address virtually as well. It's scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 17, and will be broadcast via a Zoom video conference call instead of being a public event at City Hall or another venue.
"To avoid the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus, members of the public will not be allowed in the room," the city stated.
Business continues at the city. The permitting process, Smith said, is still fully functional.
"The only thing is, we're not taking permits in person," Smith said. "You have to send them by email."
Permit payments are made over the phone or via credit card authorization form.
"The things that are being affected are passports," Smith said. "We're not doing any passports at this moment. For passports, you have to be here in person, in front of us. We can't do that yet."
Police are making adjustments, also.
King City Police Chief Ernie Happala said, "Protocol-wise, our calls have broken down into priorities one through five. Priority three, four and five calls, which make up the majority of our police calls, we are handling by telephone."
Priority three, four and five calls are typically lower-priority situations involving, for example, a theft or a traffic complaint. In these instances, police would respond by phone and determine if an in-person visit is necessary.
The idea is to protect the health of citizens. With the coronavirus outbreak and the need to maintain distance, Happala said, "We don't want to endanger anybody and don't want to be endangered ourselves."
Priority one and two calls address more serious situations, such as a domestic disturbance, an assault or an in-progress theft. Police protocol still calls for handling those calls in person.
In addition to changing the way they respond to calls for assistance, Happala's department is using technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to communicate with other law enforcement officials throughout Washington County.
Happala is currently the chair of the Washington County Law Enforcement Council.
"We usually meet once a month," Happala remarked. "Now we're having to do that by virtual meetings."
Police chiefs, state police and the district attorney are among those on represented on the council.
King City police also wear protective gear.
"Don't be afraid if you see an officer with a N95 mask on or rubber gloves," Happala said. "If we know we're going into an exposure, or something, they might even have a gown on, too."
It's not a given for a small police department like King City to have enough personal protective equipment on hand for something like a prolonged viral outbreak. Even some larger agencies and hospitals have had to improvise at times since the coronavirus reached the Pacific Northwest in January.
Happala said King City has enough of a stockpile to equip officers, but the situation isn't yet to where he would like it. High demand and minimal coordination from federal emergency managers means even agencies that typically cooperate closely are essentially competing for the same supplies.
"It was and still is a struggle," Happala said.
But it's not all bad. Happala said Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Washington County Emergency Operations Center have all been helpful with protective gear. The police department also received welcome assistance from Rose City Distilling in neighboring Tigard, in the form of donated hand sanitizer.
"Without them, we would still be searching for supplies," he said. "A big thank you to them."
Gibson believes that when the world, and King City, returns to more of a "normal," the city will still benefit from virtual meetings.
"I am really driving to look for more opportunities to use this technology," Gibson said. "My hope is that I can increase the involvement within the community by using this technology."
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