Muncie City Council hosts first in-person meeting after COVID-19 lockdown

<p>Carl Malone, parks superintendent of the City of Muncie, speaks June 1, 2020, at the Muncie City Council meeting. This was the first in-person City Council meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic. <strong>Rohith Rao, DN</strong></p>

Carl Malone, parks superintendent of the City of Muncie, speaks June 1, 2020, at the Muncie City Council meeting. This was the first in-person City Council meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic. Rohith Rao, DN

Muncie City Council members sat 6 feet apart Monday to maintain social distancing guidelines at the council’s first in-person meeting in almost two months.

The city council meetings were temporarily held virtually due to the statewide lockdowns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At Monday’s meeting, orange stickers were placed on the seats where people were allowed to sit and everyone in attendance wore face masks. Once each speaker was done speaking at the podium, a woman would wipe down and disinfect the microphone stand and the podium.

“It’s not the perfect way we wanted to do a meeting, but at least we’re back in person,” said Brad Polk, president of the city council.

The pledge of allegiance was followed by an invocation which also included a prayer for essential workers, people who died during the pandemic, those struggling from addiction and a call for unity in the Muncie community in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the protests surrounding his death. This was followed by a brief moment of silence.

Dan Ridenour, mayor of Muncie, gave a statement about the peaceful protests which took place over the weekend in downtown Muncie.

“They were safe, they were vocal, they were committed to their cause, their words were heard and we are here and we’re going to make sure that we do not at any step of time accept racism in the City of Muncie,” Ridenour said.

He said he was able to attend the event on Monday and meet with the young people who helped put the event together.

“It was a thrill to see the excitement in their eyes as cars would go by, as people continued to show up,” Ridenour said. “That’s the type of spirit we have here in Muncie.”

He asked the City Council to hold him, his departments and the police and fire departments accountable to make sure there is no racism in the City of Muncie. He said he will hold his departments accountable and racism will not be tolerated in the city.

Muncie Police Department Chief Nathan Sloan, in his department report, also shared his thoughts on Floyd’s death.

“What we saw in Minneapolis was horrible. We are all dealing with it. We are dealing with it at the department, we are dealing with it out on the street, all of you are dealing with it,” Sloan said. “Let me assure you that racism has no place in the City of Muncie and has no place in our department.”

Additionally, he provided other updates about his department and their need to hire more officers. He said MPD has 88 officers on the street or at a desk, which he said is “nowhere near enough.” He said eight officers are hurt or otherwise on leave and nine officers are transitioning to retirement for a total of 105 officers.

Sloan said his office is working to get those officers replaced as soon as possible and is contracted with a company in Indianapolis for testing procedures in promotional and hiring requirements. He added the application deadline for new hires in the department is June 26 and urged people to encourage anyone who might be interested in being part of MPD to apply.

He said MPD is currently reviewing and rewriting its policies which he said were antiquated. Changes include restructuring its criminal investigations division to include six full-time detectives, two supervisors, three detectives assigned to the SMART unit which investigates sexual crimes against children, one domestic violence detective and a captain — all overseen by Deputy MPD Chief Melissa Pease.

Sloan also briefed the council on the state of MPD during the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, he said the supply of personal protective equipment for his department is holding out and thanked the public for making and giving face masks to the police department.

“We’re going through it just like everyone else is,” he said. “Thankfully we’ve had no positive cases.”

He said MPD has also overhauled its training division and has a new immersive program which includes training in subjects like de-escalation, child abuse, racism, endangered adults, autism, human trafficking, domestic violence and other areas. Sloan said MPD officers just finished training in all these areas.

One of the ordinances discussed was to amend a code related to livestock allowing the urban use of chickens within Muncie city limits. During public comments about the ordinance, one person raised concerns about chickens being dirty, increased animal control costs for the city and lower property value.

A group of people supporting the ordinance spoke against those concerns and defended it as a sustainable practice that would help secure local food sources.

The ordinance will be going to the land and traffic committee for public input. City council member Jeff Robinson said two opportunities for public input will be available at 7 p.m. June 23 and 25 at the City Council auditorium.

Additionally, an ordinance was passed 8-1 to move City Council meetings to 7 p.m. with public meetings at 6:30 p.m. if needed. The next City Council meeting will take place July 6.

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