Saturday, March 28, 2020

Message from the mayor: Don't gather to eat or drink; businesses allowing such behavior could lose license

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with our community’s seriousness in the midst of this pandemic. However, a few are not taking it seriously enough and I want to be very clear about this: There should not be, for any reason, groups of people sitting on a restaurant patio drinking together. There should also not be any group of people sitting in any street-facing view collectively drinking either, as has also been reported. As hard as it is, we need to take extremely seriously these social distancing guidelines. In fact, people in general shouldn’t be gathering in closed areas where social distancing can’t be practiced.

This is a serious, infectious disease, and to be frank, we’re not likely to see the peak for another three weeks to a month. We are trying to protect every life that we can, and this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Please don’t be the business that allows the virus to spread unnecessarily. Please don’t be the individuals that work against the great work the majority is doing.

We’re going to get through this, and the more we take it seriously, the quicker we’ll be done with this intrusion into our lives. We all love the liberty we possess in this country, but in the name of saving lives, we have to adjust our behavior and practice social distancing at all times right now, without exception. If I get any further reports, like I received tonight, I will have the police break up the party, and we will consider pulling the business license of any place of business condoning irresponsible behavior if we have to.

We want our businesses to make it through this, and we want our citizens to feel as much normalcy as possible, and we’re doing our best to assist in both, but when it comes to protecting Midway citizens and slowing down this spread, I will use the full emergency powers at my disposal and the authority granted me by the governor, if necessary. Please don’t make me do that.

We’re doing a great job, and I’m so proud of how well most everyone is handling this. You are saving lives. Don’t be the person not participating, don’t be the one hurting the common good. We will get through this, but we have to do it together.

Legislative update: Graviss notes health-care, alcohol and unemployment measures in covid-19 response bill

By Joe Graviss
State representative for Woodford County and part of Franklin County
Hi everybody,
During an emergency, one of the most important things leaders need is added flexibility to do their job.  Some rules that are necessary when life is normal can become hurdles when lives and livelihoods are on the line.
            With that in mind, the General Assembly voted unanimously Thursday evening for Senate Bill 150, which will give Governor Andy Beshear, health-care providers and others the leeway they need as we continue the state of the emergency the governor called March 6 to address the covid-19 pandemic.
            A key provision in this legislation is the expansion of our unemployment insurance program.  Those now eligible include such groups as independent contractors (including barbers, stylists, nail technicians, restaurant staff, etc.), small business owners, substitute teachers and those who may not have lost their jobs but have seen their hours significantly reduced.
More than three million Americans have filed for unemployment in recent days, and in Kentucky, this number is approaching 50,000.  If you are among this group and haven’t already applied, please visit the state’s website at https://kcc.ky.gov/ to learn more about changes made to handle the increased caseload.  Each day of the week, for example, has been set aside to process claims based on the first letter of your last name.
Another element of Senate Bill 150 is that businesses will see rules relaxed when it comes to licenses issued by the state.  In addition, this bill also allows restaurants to sell basic staples like milk and bread and, where already allowed, to deliver alcoholic beverages as long as they are properly sealed and sold to those of legal age.
For our health-care providers, Senate Bill 150 expands tele-health options to limit the need for in-person visits, and it extends Good Samaritan protections for those providers acting in good faith to provide care.  Similar protections also apply to companies that have changed their normal production to manufacture emergency items like hand sanitizer.
While legislators have sent Senate Bill 150 to Governor Beshear for his signature, we are still finalizing a two-year state budget.
In January, when this work began, it appeared that we were poised to pass the first two-year spending plan not to have across-the-board cuts since 2006-08.  It is too soon to say what the upcoming budget will include, but there is broad agreement that it will be difficult to do more than maintain current-year spending if we’re lucky, since tax revenues are expected to decline significantly.
There are two other unknown factors as well.  First, we don’t know exactly how much Kentucky will receive from the just-approved federal stimulus, and with the income tax filing deadline moved to July 15, there will be a delay in receiving this money next fiscal year.
Although Senate Bill 150 was the highlight of the legislature’s work on Thursday, there were several other noteworthy bills sent to Governor Beshear that day as well.
House Bill 2, for example, makes needed improvements to Kentucky’s human-trafficking laws.  That includes requiring airports, bus stations and truck stops to post the hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, to increase the likelihood that victims will be able to get the help they need.
HB 484 will give more autonomy to our local governments when it comes to running their public retirement system, something our city and county officials have been wanting for several years.
HB 415, an important measure to our distilleries, will make it possible for those manufacturing alcoholic beverages to ship their product directly to adult consumers here in Kentucky and across the country, as long as sales where they live are legal.  There are limits on how much can be shipped, too.
When legislators return to the Capitol April 1, our primary focus will be to vote on a budget compromise.  While I believe this could have been handled in a special session later this spring, especially since the public is currently barred from being at the Capitol as a healthcare precaution, my hope is that we can take this vote quickly and head back to our home offices until the legislative session’s final days in mid-April, when we return to consider any vetoes that Gov. Beshear might issue. [Editor's note: Beshear vetoed two bills Saturday.]
As always, please continue letting me know your views and concerns on these legislative matters.  My email is joe.graviss@lrc.ky.gov, and the legislative message line is 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you do, be well, and holler anytime.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Open-container ordinance is temporarily suspended

Midway's recently passed ordinance allowing open containers of alcoholic beverage to be carried outside licensed premises has been suspended temporarily by Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, to whom the ordinance grants such authority.

"A recent executive order by the governor allows restaurants who are selling curbside to also sell packaged liquor or beer to accompany the meal, but it strictly prohibits selling ready-made drinks in to go containers," Vandegrift said in an email to the City Council and the news media. "This has understandably caused some confusion, and in the interest of a unified, consistent approach, I am suspending this ordinance temporarily."

Vandegrift noted that the ordinance was intended to increase downtown commerce, but "with the health crisis, all retail shops are ordered closed and restaurants are operating under limiting parameters; therefore, the intention of the ordinance cannot be fulfilled."

Also, he said, "While we encourage people to walk outside, while practicing social distancing, allowing this practice to continue during this time would contradict the governor’s order and would serve no purpose to our goal of flattening the curve.  Patrons who purchase food can still purchase packaged liquor, wine or beer per the order but it is intended for consumption at home."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Message from the mayor: 'We're doing a good job . . . Be prepared to do this for another month, maybe longer'

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

This is another weekly reminder that we’re doing a good job and that we’re going to get through this. The caring nature of this community continues to shine every day, and that’s what it’s going to take to keep us focused and dedicated to do what’s right and to beat this, which we will do. While there are still no known cases in Midway or Woodford County as this is being recorded, the consensus is that there likely are people with the coronavirus in the county. This shouldn’t cause alarm; it just reminds us of how important it is to have good personal hygiene and to keep practicing social distancing so that we keep that number as low as possible.

Remember that if you need assistance with errands or the like, you can call the Midway Christian Church at 846-4102 and volunteers will assist you. You also have an additional option, as the county’s resource helpline is now operational – you can call them for assistance at 859-753-8228.

While our shops downtown have had to close temporarily, there still may be ways you can support them, if you’re able. Check for special offers like online shopping or purchasing a gift card for future use. Our restaurants are remaining as resilient as can be, but if you’re able to support them, even if just once a week, it can make a difference in keeping someone employed. Many have been very creative in the services they’re offering to keep them afloat and you supplied, so be on the lookout for their offerings as well.

I continue to remain impressed with your resiliency and determination to get through this, as well as your practice of social distancing. That is, bar none, the most effective weapon we have against this virus at this time.

We are keeping a close eye on how our local economy will be affected, and I am very confident our city coffers will be fine. How this affects our downtown shops and restaurants remains to be seen, but with our purchasing support, when and if we can offer it, we can help make sure they’re still here when this is all over. But there is nothing more important right now than protecting people’s lives, and that remains our number-one priority as a city, and certainly as a county and a commonwealth as well.

When this will be all over is still unknown. While it’s true that most people who get the coronavirus are just fine, not everyone fares so well with it. People of all ages have struggled with it, and people over 60 or with serious underlying conditions are the most vulnerable of us, and we have to protect them. But don’t think that just because you are 22 or 32 that this won’t affect you, because it could, and obviously, you could pass it on to someone who might struggle with it.

But it’s also so important not to panic, and not to let your fears overcome you. This is a difficult time for all of us, and that’s why we have to be there to support each other, however we can. As the weather gets warmer, get out and walk, go to the park, enjoy the sunshine. Just practice social distancing, and don’t get a basketball game or soccer match going. There’s also some things you can participate in that are kid-friendly. Here are the upcoming community window walks: March 25 is silly faces, March 28 is flowers, April 1 is jokes, April 4 is yard art, April 8 is encouraging words, and April 11 is Easter eggs. During these events feel free to place the corresponding items in your windows for kids to walk by and spot as they count how many they can find. They start by 4 p.m.

The more seriously we take this, and the better we practice social distancing, the less time we’ll have to do this. And again, if you’re sick, stay home. If you need a doctor, call your local physician, but don’t just show up. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. But remember that we as humans tend to think our worst fears will come true, and tend to think we won’t be able to handle it. So don’t overestimate your fears or underestimate your toughness. You’re tougher than you think, but you’re not invincible either, so use caution, wash your hands, practice social distancing. And be prepared to do this for another month, maybe longer. If we truly do this to the best of our abilities we may end up being pleasantly surprised. I know there have been some rumblings at the national level of a quicker timeline, but luckily states do have rights, and I think our Commonwealth will do the right thing based on what our situation is. Our governor has made it clear that setting arbitrary timelines are not appropriate right now. So let’s keep doing the absolute best we can, let’s continue staying calm, let’s continue taking care of ourselves, and let’s continue helping each other get through it. Because we will get through it. Thanks, and God bless.

Fred update: Model vulture shoos away the real birds

Fred the vulture is visible above the chimney in this photograph provided by Mayor Grayson Vandegrift.
The model vulture Fred, which the city had hung in a tree amid a vulture roost on Feb. 17 to mimic a dead one, appears to have done the job, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift reports.

"We’ll take good news where we can find it," Vandegrift wrote in an email with a photo., above. "This was taken by the homeowner and she’s reporting that after we moved Fred to a little higher spot in the tree, the vultures left. Another neighbor reported seeing them circling it and then flying away. We’re going to monitor to see if they roost somewhere else in town, but other than the tin man, that seemed to be their spot." Here's a Messenger photo, taken Tuesday, from another angle:

Monday, March 23, 2020

Mayor wants to expand sidewalk project to park for school access, delay it a year to make sure of money

The Midway City Council will hold its first workshop to work on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 via teleconference Monday, March 30, at 5 p.m. The meeting will stream live via Facebook, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email to the council and news media.

Vandegrift said the availablity of grants has prompted him to propose building a sidewalk not only along West Stephens Street from Brand Street to the Homeplace, but to the north along Brand, "ultimately connecting it to Dudley, and to the trails at Walter Bradley Park." He said that would require a footbridge over Lee’s Branch parallel to the Dudley Street culvert, but that would fulfill a request made by Council Member Sara Hicks and parents and teachers of Northside Elementary School students who use the route. "What that does is open us up to more grant opportunities because it ties into a park, and provides a safer walk to and from school. I’ve already walked this with our engineer and he says it’s very doable."

However, Vandegrift said he would ask that the project wait until fiscal 2021-22, to allow more time to get grants and "more time to assess the economic toll the pandemic will cause. Though I’m hopeful it won’t greatly affect our income projections for FY 2020-21, it might. I’m fairly certain it will, however, affect our current year’s budgeting. While our two largest job providers (Lakeshore and Midway University) continue to operate with the proper precautions, there’s no doubt our current pace of occupational tax collection will decline, and we need to be prepared for that. We also don’t know the long term effects this could have on our economy. Couple that with the fact that we have to make sure we can execute our sewer project this year, I submit my proposal to you."

Council holds brief meeting fully online due to pandemic

Screenshot of Facebook page that carried the meeting, with dialog box for Zoom, the platform used by the mayor and council 
In its first meeting conducted online, the Midway City Council approved changes in the leave policy for city employees to conform to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It was conducted by way of Zoom, an online meeting platform, and streamed on the Facebook site Midway Government Streaming Meetings.

The meeting was a special one, in more ways than one. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he expects the regular meeting on April 6 to be conducted online due to the restrictions in place for the pandemic. Council Member Bruce Southworth, who always makes the motion to adjourn and has said this is his last council term, suggested that the council just keep on meeting that way.

That would require a change in state law, because the Kentucky Open Meetings Act requires that a public agency “precisely identify a primary location of the video teleconference where all members can be seen and heard and the public may attend” and “provide meeting-room conditions, including adequate space, seating, and acoustics, which insofar as is feasible allow effective public observation of the public meetings.”

Public agencies in Kentucky are meeting without such arrangements under an emergency order from Gov. Andy Beshear and an opinion from Attorney General Daniel Cameron that says, “For a public agency to identify a primary physical location to conduct a video teleconference and invite public attendance at that location would contravene all of the guidance from the president of the United States, the governor, and public-health officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In this state of a proclaimed national emergency and under a similar declaration by the governor, it is the opinion of this office that it is not currently 'feasible' for public agencies to be required [to] 'provide meeting-room conditions'—in the sense of a physical location where observers would be in close proximity to each other.”