Community Update from Mayor Norton - June 16, 2020
I want to take this opportunity to provide you with a few updates.
The Governor issued a new Executive Order on June 11 which increased the allowed gathering size from 25 to 50 people, removed some restrictions for restaurants and bars which make it easier for these businesses to operate, allowed professional and amateur sports to resume, and outlined several other conditions concerning additional businesses and venues.
We thank you for your patience and cooperation as we all move through the phases of managing all aspects of operation during response to COVID-19. We are reopening facilities and resuming services and activities carefully as we receive information and guidance, with a continued focus on keeping citizens and staff safe.
The following outlines the current status of city facilities and services:
Our City Hall, Fire Department Headquarters, Police Headquarters, and the Public Works building lobby are all open. The Smyrna Public Library opened to the public on June 15, but to limited numbers at any time and subject the CDC guidelines. Customers are encouraged to use self-checkout kiosks. Additionally, at the Library, there will be no chairs at most tables, and the hours of access will be modified at present as we look at the next phase for the facility which could include increased services possibly in early July. The Smyrna Museum will open later this month or early July.
The Smyrna Community Center opens June 17 with limits on usage of fitness equipment and racquetball courts, and with modified programs and adjusted hours. CDC guidelines will be applied throughout the facility, and event space within the facility will be available but with limited use. The large gym and Magnolia room are currently being utilized for City Council and Planning and Zoning meetings to allow social distancing. We will continue to provide updates as conditions evolve at the Community Center.
Other city facilities now open for limited use under CDC guidelines include Brawner Hall, Taylor-Brawner House, Reed House, and Aunt Fanny's Cabin. The Wolfe Center is expected to open early July with modified programs and hours. Tolleson Pool is currently expected to be open later this month and there will be modified hours with CDC guidelines observed. The Recycling Center is currently open two days per week with expectation to transition to two to three days per week later this week and moving to three to four days per week on June 29.
I want to recognize the many peaceful events and demonstrations we’ve had in the city over the past few weeks. I want to thank the participants for being peaceful, and those organizers who have reached out to the city and the police department in advance to communicate details of these demonstrations.
And I want to thank the men and women of our Smyrna Police Department for their commitment and overtime efforts to keep this community safe. These men and women are working so hard and we all really appreciate their efforts.
Your Smyrna city government has made clear that no discrimination of any kind is acceptable or tolerated in this city, and has committed to having the longer, deeper conversations that lead to change. We have begun outlining some action items and timelines that I want to share:
On Thursday at our Council Committee meeting we discussed planning professionally facilitated community conversations on race, and plan to begin that process and those conversations in July.
We also discussed the timing for the continuation of the discussion on the proposed non-discrimination ordinance. The discussion will begin in July for a couple of reasons. First, I want to make sure that everyone is able to provide input, and the shelter in place order was still in effect for the medically fragile and those over age 65 when the council met last week. Secondly, right now Hate Crimes legislation is being considered at the State Capitol and we want to wait until after the legislative session ends later this month to see what the state does before we enact a new law here in Smyrna. We will plan to bring this up for discussion in a public meeting or multiple public meetings after the July 4th holiday. This is an important proposal that we must get right, and I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to be involved in the process.
Your Smyrna Police Department has also made clear that no discrimination of any kind is acceptable or tolerated. Over the past several years all the way from hiring, to training, to policies, your Smyrna Police Department – one of the most diverse in the state - is miles ahead of many others in training, policies, and procedures that prevent discrimination and excessive use of force.
I’ve received many emails over the past few weeks, and I know council members have also been asked about how many of the Smyrna Police Department policies outlined by a group called “8 can’t wait” are satisfied by our Police Department. I am pleased to report that our department, under the leadership of Chief Bennett, satisfies ALL EIGHT of these provisions.
We have also been asked if we have a citizen review panel that reviews police use of force. I am proud to report that Chief Bennett has re-established a citizen oversight committee that will meet quarterly to review any instances involving use of force.
As we move forward, we will continue to identify areas where this city can improve. I couldn’t be prouder of the City of Smyrna, its people, and our first responders, especially during these uncertain times.
There have been a few news reports recently highlighting the annexation study and the results of that study that were reported to the city council at a committee meeting six weeks ago. Some of those reports paint the picture that Smyrna intends to aggressively annex land around our city limits to achieve a population of 90,000+ people. I want to clear up any misunderstanding about what that study was and where we are in the process.
This was just a study – not a proposal. It was originally conceived to address the unincorporated islands in the city that create challenges for service delivery.
Your city council has not discussed the study at length as a body or come up with any recommendations on if or how to proceed. In fact, only Thursday did I appoint a council committee to begin analyzing the results of the study and make a recommendation to the full council. So I ask that everyone please step back, relax, and understand that your city is not planning a large secret land grab or anything of the sort, as has been represented by some media. We are simply beginning to look at this, and will update citizens as we make progress.
And lastly, I want to mention that the Support Smyrna program continues to be wildly successful, and thanks to all of you who have highlighted the generous spirit of this community through your donations which now total almost $160,000. We have been able to feed hundreds of Smyrna families in need, and just last week extended this support to employees of Smyrna businesses who have had difficulties during these tough times. Thank you everyone so much for your support of neighbors in need. What a special place this community is!
Stay Safe – Face Coverings
As we continue the process of carefully reopening the city, please understand that we are still in a declared health state of emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. We ask that you remain vigilant in your interactions with others and wear face coverings.
This week Senator Ben Watson, Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and a physician, put things into perspective – he said that if two people are in a small space like a doctor’s office for fifteen minutes, and one of them is COVID-19 positive and one is not, that the probability of the second person becoming COVID-19 positive is nearly 98%. IF, however, both people in the same scenario are wearing masks, then there is less than a 2% chance that the other person will become infected.
Face coverings are so important in our current environment to help us stay healthy and put the coronavirus in our rearview mirror. Thanks to this awesome community for continuing to come together and show how close-knit and strong we are. As always please call on me or our staff anytime if we can assist you or answer questions. Stay safe y’all! #SmyrnaStrong
Mayor Derek Norton