De Pere council declares emergency, moves meetings online
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Until the COVID-19 pandemic abates, future De Pere Common Council meetings will be held remotely through a meeting app, with council members signing in from their homes or other locations.
While every effort will be made to broadcast the meetings to the public, it’s possible the new software or arrangement could stop that from occurring.
If that happens and it’s imperative a meeting be held, the city reserves the right to not broadcast to the public.
In a declaration of a state of emergency for the City of De Pere, Mayor Mike Walsh cited a section of the Wisconsin State Statutes governing emergencies which gives local governments the ability to make decisions without going before a public forum.
“The intent is to give discretion to the mayor and council president so that we have flexibility to address our needs and the community’s needs on the fly, essentially,” said City Administrator Larry Delo. “What this does is, if we have to do some type of meeting and we’re not typically able to do it in a manner that would allow us to record it and broadcast it, we have the ability to do that.… We just want to have the flexibility (so it’s) not that, if something’s wrong, we can’t do the meeting.”
While meetings are currently broadcast on local channels and online so those unable to attend can follow city decisions, the new format involves all members of a committee or board not being in the same room together.
The new remote format enables those serving on committees or boards to avoid group settings.
“The idea is to not have you here,” Walsh said to the board.
In signing off on the declaration of emergency, or Resolution 2034, the council also signed off on a tweak to the De Pere municipal code, allowing phone participation in meetings to count toward a quorum.
Walsh said nonessential city offices would be closed, all nonessential employees would work from home or placed on leave, nonessential services would be suspended, and nonessential public access to city buildings would be suspended during the emergency period.
All unnecessary staff work involving traveling out of the immediate area is also suspended.
“We are continuing to provide essential services,” he said. “This is something we’re taking very seriously.”
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Gas regulator station
A conditional use permit paved the way for a utility company to put in a natural gas district regulator station in a mostly residential area.
The council approved the permit to WPS for two lots at 806 and 808 Ash Street (at the corner of Ash and North Eighth streets).
The property is mostly blacktopped over and has stood vacant for decades.
It’s currently zoned B-2 general business, with business and industrial areas to the north and east and a neighborhood to the south and west.
The regulator station would be a brick building and heater system surrounded by a 6-foot chain link fence, with arborvitae trees screening the fence on three sides.
It would operate remotely, with monthly site visits from WPS staff, and any noise generated would be lower in decibels than the street noise on nearby Eighth Street, according to WPS representative Steve Paplham in the application packet.
No one showed up at Tuesday’s public hearing to voice concerns, but Alder Dan Carpenter was concerned over noise.
“At night, there’s less traffic, so noise from the station would seem louder,” he said,
Carpenter said he’s received complaints from residents in his district about noise from a nearby industrial park.
Dan Lindstrom, director of development services, said the sound level from the substation would be less than 54 decibels, likely around 49.
Street noise on Eighth Street was determined to be between 70 and 80.
“Only in extreme cold, which is when the station operates at the highest capacity, would the noise be higher,” Lindstrom said.