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In first livestreamed meeting, Westminster council approves measure for sharing police resources

Though faces were a little blurry, the Westminster Mayor and Common Council held its biweekly meeting over a livestream Monday, approving a proactive step for sharing police resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

It marked the first time a Westminster Mayor and Common Council meeting has been broadcast live, though some where larger audiences were expected, such as controversial public hearings, have been held at Johns Street Quarters, where the Community Media Center has captured video and posted it later. Monday’s meeting, with the councilmembers at home and communicating via a web conferencing service, will be available to watch on Channel 23 and posted online later this week to re-watch, according to the city’s official Facebook page.

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The council voted to approve the Westminster Police Department entering an agreement between the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the municipal police departments that will let them share personnel in a “worst case scenario” where officers fall sick and a department cannot meet minimum staffing requirements in one part of the county.

The agreement would give officers more authority outside their jurisdictions to be part of another department’s patrol squad structure during the emergency, “so we could seamlessly operate,” Chief Thomas Ledwell said.

The Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments are video conferencing regularly because they hope to have continuity of operations, Ledwell said. All leave that is not sick leave has been suspended for Westminster officers until further notice.

The police are tasked by the state with enforcing the governor’s executive orders during the state of emergency. This includes the order to prevent gatherings of more that 10 people. So far, the department has responded to some large gatherings in public parks and one private party held at a restaurant, but all were resolved without serious issue, he said.

“Our goal is compliance,” he said. “We’re not looking to take any enforcement actions we don’t need to take.”

Overall, the department has seen a slight uptick in domestic calls, but overall call volume is down because people are staying home by and large.

Because the state police academy in Sykesville is closed, the department is putting four recruits who were in the most recent training class to work at police headquarters, but right now there is not word as to when they can resume training.

Staff, council members and the mayor gave copious praise to members of city staff who have worked to adjust to changed work patterns while providing municipal services. Some are working from home, while some are still coming in to work to provide essential services like water and wastewater, streets and public safety.

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The city’s next scheduled bulk trash and yard waste pickup days are the last for the time being. This is partially to free up workload for the workers in the city’s Street Department, who are working split shifts to reduce the number of people in their close workplace at one time.

Councilman Benjamin Yingling, as chair of the Economic Development Committee, addressed businesses that are facing difficult and unprecedented times. He wanted to convey that there are resources and that many business advocates including the Small Business Development Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the Carroll County Tech Council, and others were willing to help with education and resources.

“I would encourage everyone to support each other,” he said. referring to himself and fellow council members. “Reach out to us if you need anything through these uncertain times.”

The city acknowledged the Recreation and Parks Department and the Carroll Arts Council are both facing cancellations and postponements of large events, including the Celtic Canter, the Westminster Wine Stroll and the PEEPSHow, which staff spent months and months and sometimes a year planning.

The council voted unanimously to approve their end of an agreement between the county, library system and city to allow the library use of 77 parking spaces in the city’s parking garage. This is to make allowance for the visitors to Exploration Commons, an in-progress renovation of the lower level of the Westminster Branch to include a technology-focused makerspace, professional teaching kitchen and working spaces. The initial term of the agreement would be for 20 years and the city would not charge the library system for their use of the spaces.

Council and staff also praised the city’s IT Department, which, among other tasks, outfitted city staff members with 25 laptops in a day-and-a-half in order to allow them to work from home. They also trained staff on remote work programs and rewired phone and email pathways so that multiple people can access them even if others in the department are sick or unavailable. They also had a hand in making Monday’s video meeting possible.

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“They deserve a great big shout-out for their dedication, innovation and hard work,” said Tammy Palmer, director of the Finance Department.

Director of Public Works Jeff Glass noted that at this time, city construction projects are meeting the state’s guidelines to continue. Though things could change, projects, including the $70 million upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, are moving forward. Palmer noted that the state office that oversees bay restoration grants is continuing to process payments, meaning the city is able to continue paying their contractor. She continues to work on the city’s budget for presentation to the council later in spring.

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