Amid COVID-19 surge, Sandy Springs says it must hold in-person meetings

Sandy Springs plans to hold an in-person City Council meeting Tuesday after being informed that an attendee at a special called meeting Friday tested positive for COVID-19.

The Tuesday meeting was expected to draw a crowd for public comment on changes to city codes related to apartment development.

Just before noon on Monday, attendees of the Friday meeting received an email from the city informing them that they were in the presence of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. During Friday’s special called meeting council members approved the hiring of Eden Freeman as city manager. The meeting was held in a smaller space than the studio theater where meetings are usually held.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the highly-infectious omicron variant is responsible for 73% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., up from 13% a week earlier.

With the variant on the rise, Atlanta mayor-elect Andre Dickens announced Monday night that he has tested positive for COVID-19. And over the weekend, nearly two dozen metro Atlanta restaurants temporarily closed due to positive COVID-19 cases among staff. City halls in Avondale Estates and College Park have closed due to infections.

Sandy Springs has a robust agenda planned for Tuesday’s City Council meeting that includes an amendment to approve development code changes in the North End of the city. The changes would draw builders of mixed-used projects with an affordable living component. Homeowners living in the North End and throughout Sandy Springs have voiced concerns about more apartments or density in and around their neighborhoods.

According to Sandy Springs Communications Director Jason Fornicola, the public can watch city meetings virtually, but Mayor Rusty Paul and City Council members are required to attend in-person. In an email, Fornicola told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city doesn’t have legal authority to conduct the meeting entirely virtually and any council member not in attendance cannot vote.

“The city’s current plan is to continue (Tuesday’s) meeting with council physically present but following COVID-19 protocols,” Fornicola said. “... Further, council members and staff in attendance will be tested ahead of the meeting to determine if anyone is currently infected.”

Fornicola said that solely virtual meetings held earlier in the pandemic were under Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order.

Former Sandy Springs mayoral candidate Dontaye Carter said he was among about 20 people at Friday’s special called meeting and he was the only person wearing a mask.

After being notified by Sandy Springs about possible exposure on Monday, Carter sent an email response — shared with the AJC — suggesting officials hold Tuesday’s meeting virtually or cancel it.

“I just think we’ve got to be extremely cautious,” Carter told the newspaper.