With COVID cases surging in Gila County, the Payson Town Council voted to close the chamber doors and go back to remote only attendance for the public.
In a hastily called meeting on Aug. 23, the council met via Zoom to discuss options. Only Councilor Jim Ferris did not attend as he is still recovering from COVID.
Councilor Scott Nossek asked that they return to earlier COVID precautions, either social distancing, masking and limiting attendance at council meetings, or return the public to remote only attendance.
“COVID is not like influenza regarding how lethal it is,” he said.
COVID cases caused by the Delta variant have spread across the nation. Not only are children more susceptible to this variant, those vaccinated are falling ill, said Nossek.
“The one unifying emotion, we are fatigued and wary of this pandemic,” he said.
He requested the council change its meeting procedures in order to protect staff and the public.
Town Manager Troy Smith reported Payson had 70 active cases that day.
“That is a number we have not seen since January,” he said.
Smith said the final decision on how to run meetings rested with the council.
Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian was hesitant to return to Zoom-only meeting, saying older Rim Country residents who do not own a computer struggle to take part in meetings.
“A lot of our constituents felt they were not being heard, attending via Zoom,” she said.
She advocated for leaving meetings open “as long as possible” with everyone required to wear masks and social distance.
Smith said only about 15 people could fit into the council chambers when the council and staff are present to maintain social distancing.
Mayor Tom Morrissey said masks are a problem for him.
“I cannot wear a mask for any long period of time, thanks to having had COVID and the vaccination,” he said.
Vice Mayor Chris Higgins said it would be hypocritical to require the public to wear masks, but not the council. “I would never consider (requiring) residents or employees to have masks, but then have council members without masks,” he said.
Councilors Barbara Underwood and Jolynn Schinstock agreed that returning to Zoom meetings was the best option.
Tubbs-Avakian said she felt like requiring remote attendance was “a disservice to our residents.”
She cast the only dissenting vote.
The motion to return council meetings to public remote attendance passed five to one.
For information on how to call in or submit a public comment, call town hall at 928-474-5242.