At a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, March 25, the DeForest Village Board unanimously voted to ratify a declaration of emergency made March 19 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Although the mostly hotly debated topic was how to handle public comments from citizens at future board meetings, as the pandemic has forced trustees to meet by teleconference.

By a 4-2 vote, an amended ordinance was approved that temporarily halts personal appearances by the general public at board meetings for health and safety reasons, while allowing for written comments to be submitted and read at the meetings.

Jason Kramar was one of two trustees to vote against the measure. The other was Abby Lowery.

“I think this is going to go over like a lead balloon,” said Kramar. “The last thing we want to do at this time is give the perception that we’re distancing ourselves from the public.”

Kramar wanted to provide the option for residents to be able to speak by phone during the public comment portion of the meetings. A motion to allow public comment by phone failed by a 3-3 vote.

The amended ordinance removing provisions for personal appearances by the general public and allowing written commentary addressed to the board and provided to the clerk prior to the meeting will expire on May 5.

Acknowledging that this is a highly unusual situation, Village President Judd Blau argued that “the cleanest, easiest way to reach out” would be for citizens to offer written comment they want read.

In other board matters, the question was posed about voting in the village hall lobby for the April 7 election. Village officials are strongly encouraging everyone to vote by absentee ballot. However, voters can register to vote in the lobby, even though village hall is closed. They are advised to call first.

With regard to the declaration of emergency, Lowery asked why ratification was necessary. Blau said that by doing so, the village can seek federal and state emergency assistance for expenses incurred because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lowery wondered about the recovery of delayed utility revenue. Blau wasn’t sure how much the village would receive in aid because “every municipality in the country will be asking.”

Blau added, “Nobody is going to be made whole on this.”

Police Chief James Olson was asked about how the department is helping the community comply with Gov. Evers’ Safer at Home order, which went into effect Wednesday, March 25, and will run until Friday, April 24, or until a superseding order is issued.

Olson said in response that it had only been six hours. He also said that nobody is expected to stop people on the street and send them home.

Director of Public Service Kelli Bialkowski was asked about prohibiting use of playground equipment in village parks. Bialkowski said signs are being put up to discourage their use, but they are not being roped off.

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