Here’s a sign of the progress that’s been made against the coronavirus pandemic.

The city of Alexandria is no longer under a “local emergency” declaration.

The Alexandria City Council first ratified the mayor’s declaration on March 18, 2020, and has been extending it monthly ever since. It took the action to coincide with Gov. Tim Walz’s declaration of a statewide emergency in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

The declaration allowed the city to qualify for federal funding and approve emergency ordinances that take effect immediately. It also provided greater flexibility to the council, such as allowing it to hold meetings through Zoom video conferencing.

At its June 28 meeting, the council extended the emergency for the 15th time since the pandemic began but the action included a provision to lift it earlier if Walz decided to let his executive order expire or it was repealed.

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Walz’s order ended on July 1 so the city's declaration also expired. "It's officially official," said Mayor Bobbie Osterberg.

Engineering approved for Hawthorne

An engineering agreement has been approved to reconstruct Hawthorne Street between 17th and 18th avenues.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $289,206. The council agreed to pay the first half of the engineering work, $22,058, to Widseth.

The project will build a 380-foot, 9-ton, 44-foot wide urban-designed street with a 5-foot wide handicapped-accessible sidewalk along the east side.

Storm sewer will also be installed with a 30-inch diameter pipe along a 350-foot section that will connect the existing sewer line in 17th Avenue to the proposed sewer in 18th Avenue. The sewer connections and a new water main will be designed separately.

The project included erosion control, striping, traffic control and planting trees and turf.

Stormwater utility funds collected by the city will cover $54,304 of the project. The remainder will be funded through the city’s capital improvement fund.

New event by Big Ole

The council approved a special event permit for a new idea – “Saturday in the Park.”

The first event will take place at Big Ole Central Park on Saturday, July 31, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association submitted the application.

The event will include an art fair featuring several artists, along with music. Plans are in the works for other future "pop-up" events in Big Ole Central Park, such as music, theater and story time.

Downtown businesses may also get involved by offering wristbands for those attending the events that may be used for discounts.

Police officer replacement

Police Chief Scott Kent told the council that he will start the process with the Alexandria Police Civil Service Commission to replace patrol officer Anthony Golden, who is no longer employed by the city.

The replacement position is in the police department’s 2021 budget.

The commission has a list of eligible candidates and will determine if there are enough candidates on the list to proceed with filling the opening or start over with a new list.

The city received one response from the public about the police replacement. Judd Hoff opposed it, saying that the Alexandria Police Department spends "twice as much" compared to other cities the size of Alexandria.

New HR software

The council approved an agreement with Ascentis to provide a new human resources management software system for the city.

The goal is to automate, simplify and expedite human resources issues, such as time keeping rather than doing it manually, said Karin Tank, the city's HR director.

The software covers HR benefits and attendance time, recruiting, performance and learning management. It will go live on Jan. 1, 2022.

The council voted to pay $18,049 annually for the software, plus a one-time implementation fee of $5,555. It will be reviewed by the city’s Budget Committee and the council as part of the city’s 2022 budget.

In a memo to the council, Tank said there’s an immediate need for updated policies, procedures and training for city employees.

In the memo, Tank said the pandemic has brought many changes to HR, with some employees working at home or at different times. Many HR functions had to be held virtually for all parts of an employee lifecycle, with new employees joining and working without meeting in person, for months. Training, education and development was greatly reduced or non‐existent at times, Tank said.

The city is starting to see a ripple effect on engagement and well‐being, Tank said.

“Our employees have all experienced either the isolation, difficulties in personal and/or health dynamics and Zoom fatigue or being a part of the front line of essential workers,” Tank said in her memo. “The need for creativity and succession planning is more heightened as people are shifting their values and motivations. Mental wellbeing is being put to a test and we should prepare for a workforce that will be looking for more empathy, authenticity and transparency, a skill set that we need to be able to execute virtually.”