An emergency declaration ordinance that effectively bans the public, including the media, from attending public board of aldermen meetings for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis was enacted by Salem aldermen at a special meeting Monday night.

The ordinance limits public access to video observation only. City Administrator Ray Walden said a video feed, probably using YouTube Live, will be set up to broadcast the meetings over the web before the next meeting on April 6.

When asked about complying with the Missouri Sunshine Law, Walden said city officials believe the web broadcast “meets the Sunshine Law requirement.”

The same ordinance suspends any disconnection of utilities for non-payment and waives late fees for the duration of the emergency and directs customers to use the administration building drive-through or drop box to pay utility bills, pay by phone or mail in payments to avoid foot traffic inside the building. To establish new service, residents must contact the utility office.

Also Monday night, the board adopted Mayor Brad Nash’s proclamation declaring a state of emergency in Salem. The proclamation directs public officials and employees to “exercise the utmost diligence” in discharging their duties during the emergency and directs citizens to comply with emergency measures and cooperate with public officials.

To clarify an ordinance passed at the March 2 meeting,the board adopted a revised version that gives officials the authority to extend the 20-day period after a bill is issued before a 10 percent utility late payment penalty is assessed, but not shorten it.

The new version repeatedly states that nothing in the ordinance can be construed as granting authority to shorten the 20-day period for assessing a late payment penalty.

In other action, the board adopted an ordinance offering full-time city employees 80 hours of paid leave if they are under government quarantine, self-isolating at the direction of a healthcare provider or displaying symptoms and seeking a diagnosis.

They are eligible for two-thirds of their regular pay for 80 hours if they are caring for someone subject to quarantine or isolation, or are caring for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19. They are also eligible for two-thirds pay after 10 days under the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act.

The board also adopted a resolution setting up a new payment plan policy for utility customers that includes flexible payment arrangements and allows customers to pay off past due balances and keep their utility accounts in good standing.

For more details, see next week’s issue of The Salem News.