How does City business get conducted during a pandemic when everyone is being advised to practice social distancing? In Miami Beach, it’s through a combination of extended telephone hours for its customer service center and City staff alternating working from home and the office.
City Manager Jimmy Morales said in-person hours at the Customer Service Center on Meridian Avenue have been reduced to between 10 am and 2 pm, however, telephone service hours – 305.604.CITY (2489) – have been expanded to run from 8:00 am to 10:30 pm until Friday, March 27. Morales said the City is “encouraging people to do as much online as possible.” (The online service center is here.)
UPDATED March 27: Beginning Monday, March 30, the City’s hotline hours will be reduced to 8 am to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday. You can also email your questions to MBCovid@miamibeachfl.gov.
The Customer Service Center will be closed to walk-in customers beginning Monday, March 30. All transactions will be handled online here. Customers can call our main line at 305.673.7420, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Building Department office in North Beach has temporarily closed and people are being told to just drop off plans on the first floor of City Hall rather than waiting. “Drop it off. We’ll call you the next day,” Morales said. “We are doing waivers… extending BTRS, other permits, parking stickers so that people don’t need to come in.”
Citizen advisory board meetings are either cancelled or being held telephonically and many employees are telecommuting. Senior management is working A/B shifts with half working from home and half in the office to ensure “continuity of operations”, he said. As parks and indoor facilities are closed, some staff is being repurposed to helping with delivering meals to seniors and sanitizing facilities.
At the City Commission meeting on Wednesday, Morales told the Mayor and Commissioners, “The City is not closed. We’re trying to stay as normal as possible,” he said but asked that everyone “be patient with us in our efforts to protect our employees and the public. We may not be as quick in responding… but we are trying to handle matters.”
“We know the business of the City needs to keep going so I just want to assure you all we are still working on [the GO Bond projects], we’re still working on resiliency, we’re still working on trying to improve customer service,” Morales said. “Obviously, the crisis of coronavirus will be the top thing on our list, but we’re still working on the issues and assignments and projects because we know that once – God willing it will be sooner rather than later – this cloud is lifted over us, we’ve got to get back to normal.”
“One of those [things] that we’re also focusing on significantly is how do we help our industry come back,” he said. On a daily basis, his team has calls with the business community and is providing information on programs available to them to help with disaster assistance and planning. They’re also working with the City’s lobbyists in Tallahassee and Washington regarding disaster assistance money and how it can be accessed.”
In the meantime, he said, “With minor code stuff, we’re trying to be much more lenient,” he told Commissioners. “We’re trying to recognize that we’re all going through something. We’re going to try to be as flexible as possible with everybody.”
Mayor Dan Gelber said he appreciated the response. “We have a lot of residents and businesses who are going to feel like a lot of the pressure is on them, the anxiety they have on them.” He asked that Code enforcement “be understanding of all the issues that they’re confronting right now” as now is not the time for “making examples or being punitive.”
“It’s a time to really help people who,” he said, “might go three months without income at all… As much as we have servants’ hearts, we have to really think about that in almost everything we do.”
Morales noted that FPL has announced it will not shut off power, adding, “We’re not going to cut off utilities. Our Code officers are going to only focus on serious violations, serious quality of life issues, and things like that. We’re not going to be petty. We’re going to be very lenient on this, and we hope others are lenient with us as well.”
Miami Beach Adjusts City Services During Coronavirus Crisis:
City Manager says effort is being made to conduct business with fewer in-person contacts