Cases of Covid-19 are spiking. Hospitalizations of people with Covid-19 are at an all-time high in the state. The Arkansas Department of Health sent recommendations to Gov. Asa Hutchinson suggesting the state implement a 28-day pause, which would include allowing no gatherings of more than 10 people, among other requirements. The department also recommended local enforcement of the state mask mandate.

However, contrary to those recommendations and the practices of other government entities in the county, the Huntsville City Council held its regular meeting on Monday night in person despite Mayor Darrell Trahan having been exposed to the virus as a school employee for St. Paul Schools. 

Last week, St. Paul Principal and Coach Bruce Dunlap was diagnosed with Covid-19. All basketball games at St. Paul were canceled for two weeks. Certain school employees were sent home to quarantine. The decision was made to keep the city council meeting in person because “The Mayor had not been exposed to Coach Dunlap without a mask.”

Across town that same night, the school district that employs Trahan held its meeting on Zoom and provided the public the opportunity to view it on Facebook Live. The school district has not held a public meeting since April but live-streams its meetings, allowing its patrons to see the decisions it makes. The district is also live-streaming basketball games and football games so that the community can remain safe while watching the Eagles. 

Madison County Quorum Court also allows people to call into its meetings, including justices of the peace. 

It’s disappointing to me that the only way for citizens to see city council’s actions is to attend the meeting in person. But this meeting, this month, a citizen would attend with a mayor who has been exposed to the virus, albeit while wearing a mask. 

This is also an important meeting in which the city addressed its budget for next year.

At the city council meeting, a presentation concerning solar energy was made in person. An hour later, it was presented virtually to the school board. Same presentation, different safety protocols. 

Thank goodness that the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act mandates that government entities, including city councils, must record their meetings and provide a copy to anyone who requests it. 

We asked the mayor why have a meeting when he’s been exposed to someone – even if wearing a mask. Here’s what he had to say:

“If there was even a chance that I had been exposed to Coach Dunlap, then by the school’s policies I would have been sent home for quarantine. Every teacher that was exposed is at home. The fact that I’m not means I did not need to quarantine. As far as the mask policy, we need to decide does it work or does it not because if it doesn’t protect me and it doesn’t prevent him from spreading it why are we all wearing them?”

The mayor also addressed city council, saying he had not seen Dunlap in a week. “Hopefully that will alleviate your fears,” he said. “He has it, not me. I just work there.”

Huntsville School District Superintendent Audra Kimball said according to the Arkansas Department of Health’s requirements, employees who were within six feet of someone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19 for 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period has to be quarantined. 

Because the school chose not to quarantine the mayor, he believes it’s safe to hold a city council meeting in person. But remember that same school district met an hour later virtually, not allowing its patrons to attend the meeting. The school’s decision concerning whether or not an employee is quarantined should not determine whether or not city council meets in person. 

We’d love to see city council follow the lead of the school district by providing its citizens with the chance to observe its decision making in a safe way and that is by either conducting the meeting virtually or at least live-streaming it to citizens who want to remain safe. 


Ellen Kreth is publisher of the Madison County Record and can be reached at ekreth@mcrecordonline.com