Few cities and municipalities among 10 queried Friday have a closed-door policy regarding their city halls or public buildings.
Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter said this week that one barrier logistically to reopening City Hall, 245 W. Fourth St., after keeping it closed for a year because of the virus, is the lack of a front desk area. City Hall is open by appointment and the treasurer/tax and codes offices are open.
“The city executive branch has wide discretion on that,” said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel at the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association in Harrisburg.
Melewsky said Friday that mayors or city managers can determine whether to reopen public buildings based on infection rates, the physical structure of the building and state Department of Health guidelines, with the goal to keep the guests and employees safe.
As for the security/front desk area to which Slaughter alluded, Melewsky said city officials need to explain planning for a front desk area — how it will be budgeted for and what they specifically plan to do to address the security concerns.
“That should be an easy question to answer,” she said.
Sunshine returned to several cities, municipalities
In Norristown, a city 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Kevin Tusin, the city’s public information officer expressed surprise that Williamsport’s City Hall was not reopen.
“We were closed for a few months just after last March,” Tusin said. “We were back open in June and open with full public access since July,” he said.
For visitors to Norristown’s government, the police department is on the ground floor.
“When someone works in the police department they can help to direct visitors to where they have to go,” Tusin said.
The Norristown building has a front desk employee who directs visitors to whatever direction they want to go, he said.
Initially, during the onset of the virus, Norristown adhered to guidance from Montgomery County and all offices in the county were closed, he said.
“We reduced staff to address only urgent concerns and officials monitored the situation to make changes as necessary,” Tusin said.
Norristown lists Census population of about 35,000, he said.
Because of the government building reopening in three months, business at City Hall kicked up.
“It had definitely been slower but seems in the past few months things are returning to normal,” Tusin said.
In Luzerne County, officials at Hazleton City Hall said the building has reopened with visitors able to walk in through “four entry doors.” It was closed for several months, but the mayor was concerned about limitations to public access.
“Mayor Jeff Cusat reopened the building as soon as possible for residents to get permits, pay taxes,” the city clerk said. “The mayor said there should be no reason to isolate the public.”
In Blair County, Altoona City Hall is completely open and there is no front desk, a spokeswoman for the city manager said. Limitations to access existed for a while during the height of the pandemic, she said.
York, with a population of about 43,000, has been limited visitors to its city hall. Its offices are open for payments but the second floor where the mayor and city clerk offices are located is closed and the mayor is seen by appointment, a city official said. The building is open downstairs but not the second floor, she said.
Easton’s City Hall is open, a city official said. Appointments to see the mayor continue with closure on and off during outbreaks, she said. The building does not have a front desk and has its administrative offices on the second floor, a City Hall official said.
Lebanon City Hall is open but appointments to see city officials are requested. The building does not have a front desk and entrance is by the rear door. Visitors put their name on a list at the rear door and officials allow visitors in to see officials such as the those at the tax office, an official said. Officials in Lebanon, which has a population of about 23,000, are mulling changes on April 1 to further relax restrictions.
Chambersburg City Hall has a person acting as a monitor who is checking people’s temperatures and a receptionist assisting guests. The building was closed for three months and then the lobby was open in June, a spokeswoman said.
Carlisle borough office is open with entrance through the side door. The offices were closed down during early onset of the the virus. There is a receptionist but not a front desk.
Pottstown municipal offices remain more closed to the public, with in-person appointments 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Wilkes-Barre also is not fully accessible and on a by-appointment basis along with required temperature checks for visitors to the tax office and credit union.
To see administration, the policy is to telephone ahead, a spokeswoman there said.
The building has no front desk and was initially closed to the public during the height of the pandemic, she said.
Pottstown has a population of about 21,000 while Wilkes-Barre has a population of about 40,000.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox