Jenks City Manager urges citizens to stay positive
Jenks City Manager Chris Shrout, along with Mayor Robert Lee and Chamber of Commerce President Josh Driskell left March 9 for Denver on a business trip.
The Jenks trio was traveling to Colorado to tour the Denver-area Simon Outlet Mall and talk with local officials to receive input on the Tulsa Premium Outlets Simon is building in Jenks.
At that time, the Coronavirus was just starting its spread across the country with one COVID-19 case in Tulsa County and one in the state of Colorado.
“We talked about whether or not we should go, but with the low number of cases at that time, we decided it would be okay,” Shrout said. “Two days later, we were heading to the Denver airport to come back home, there were only two confirmed cases in Tulsa County, but the state of Colorado had shot up to 33. That’s when we all looked at each other and said this might be a bigger problem and coming on faster than we had anticipated.”
Shrout decided it was time to call a meeting with department heads to discuss public safety and develop a plan to make sure they were prepared.
The first public safety meeting took place first thing in the morning on March 12.
“We discussed essential and non-essential employees and who could work from home,” Shrout said. “We put a game-plan together to make sure we were prepared, and we really stressed the issue. Not much had happened in Oklahoma at that point, but we wanted to be ready in case in got worse in Tulsa County. City Councilor Kaye Lynn deserves a lot of credit because she had been talking about this for a while. She was the first person to bring this to our attention back in February.”
Also, in that initial public safety meeting, discussion began on what to do with the Oklahoma Aquarium. Spring Break week was set to begin the following Monday, which is always one of the biggest weeks of the year for the Jenks facility.
The Oklahoma Aquarium remained open through the following weekend, but another meeting took place the morning of March 16 to discuss what to do with the facility with the Coronavirus sinking its teeth deeper into the country.
“We had an agonizing decision to make,” Shrout said. “We collectively decided it was best to shut down the aquarium indefinitely. Then, at the end of the day on that Monday, I sent an email to our department leaders telling them it was time to implement the plan we had developed in that first meeting the previous Thursday.”
The plan that was implemented was to limit the number of people who came to City Hall. The only departments that would operate normally would be Police, Fire, Public Works, Utility Billing and Building Inspection.
Also, the Oklahoma Aquarium employees that are responsible for keeping the animals alive would operate under normal hours.
The city employees who work in the finance, engineering, planning and other departments would all work from home.
“We want Jenks to continue to grow through all of this,” Shrout said. “That is why we are still operating and moving forward. We are taking the most common-sense approach with this. We are still providing city services, people can still apply for permits, pay their water bills, etc. The City Council has issued a ‘Shelter In Place’ order to our citizens. We are cautiously optimistic about all of this. We know we will be shut down and operating like this for a while.”
With people being forced to stay home, the local economy will take a hit.
“We know the businesses are hurting because of this,” Shrout said. “We are doing all we can to support them. We are encouraging people to spend money at local businesses that are still open. If the aquarium stays closed throughout the month of April, we anticipate losing more than $1 million in revenue, but we still have expenses to pay. We are still moving forward with City Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings and Board of Adjustment meetings. We are just doing it as remotely as possible. As soon as it is clear that it is safe to open up, we will open back up.”
Shrout said he anticipates the city operating this way through at least the end of April unless something drastically changes for the better. He said it his hope to move forward as soon as it is possible.
“I think the economy will rebound from this. People are sitting at home right now wishing they could go out and eat at a restaurant. These decisions are very difficult because we want to promote the health and well-being of our citizens, but also promote economic growth and development. Our plan is to continue all the development that has been planned and continue working on the projects we have been working on for a while now.”
Shrout said he wants Jenks citizens to remain positive throughout this crisis and remember they are not alone.
“We are all in this together. We are all going to deal with this together. We are all going to come out this together. We are going to be stronger because of it. It is unfortunate that we have to deal with this, but we are Americans and we are resilient people. We find ways to help each other. You can focus on the negative, but there is plenty of good news and people are showing their humanity throughout this process.”