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story.lead_photo.caption El Dorado City Hall -- News-Times file - Photo by Terrance Armstard

The El Dorado City Council will convene today for the first regular meeting of 2021 and along with dealing with a packed agenda, city officials will reconstitute stricter coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions.

Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer announced that 25 audience members will be allowed in the Council Chamber, per a plan that was submitted to and approved by the Arkansas Department of Health for indoor gatherings that include 10 or more people.

Smith-Creer said restrictions were tightened due the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.

Priority for audience seats will be given to city officials, department heads, and employees, including the city attorney, director of public works, and the police and fire chiefs, she said.

City officials and media representatives who typically sit on the council dais at the front of the Council Chamber will be allowed inside the chamber in addition to the 25-person limit for the audience.

Since the pandemic hit, city council and audience members have socially-distanced in the council chamber, with at least two council members sitting in the audience area during council meetings.

City Attorney Henry Kinslow, whose designated seat is next to the mayor’s, has also sat in the audience for the past several months.

Smith-Creer noted that council members Dianne Hammond and Vance Williamson are not expected to attend today’s meeting and the remaining six council members will likely sit in their respective spots on the dais.

“Moving forward with all eight council members, two will sit in audience with the city attorney,” she said.

Audience members will be allowed inside on a first-come, first-served basis. Face masks are required.

“Once the first 25 are in, that will be it. People have to tune in to FaceBook Live (on the City Hall Facebook page) and (local radio stations 107.1 FM and 1400 AM) so that we can stay in compliance with the (state) health department,” the mayor said.

“We’re looking at other avenues for people to attend virtually to prevent people from having to get out and come to City Hall,” she added, noting there have been complaints about the audio feed during the livestream.

The council will consider several items under new business, including revisiting issues that were hashed out during the last council meeting on Dec. 10.

Council Member Willie McGhee is on the agenda to discuss the council’s vote to place El Dorado Water Utilities operations under the auspices of the council.

In 2017, the council dissolved the former El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission and placed EWU operations and administration under the umbrella of the Department of Public Works.

The decision was due, in part, to council members’ dissatisfaction with the response of the EWSC to several issues, including customer complaints and oversight of some improvement projects.

A Water Advisory Board was subsequently formed to serve as a liaison between the EWU and the Department of Public Works. The board meets monthly.

McGhee was part of the unanimous vote on Dec. 10 to transfer EWU operations under the council’s authority and he has requested permission to clarify his vote during the council meeting today.

In other business, the council is expected to discuss updates and clarifications of the process by which occupational/business licenses are issued by the city.

A request to place items — vehicles and equipment, including as lawn mowers — from the City Shop up for auction is also on the council’s agenda.

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