Nogales City Hall was open to the public on Thursday morning, for the first time since elected officials voted to shut the doors just over a year ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The change came after the Nogales City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to open up city buildings beginning the next morning.
“I think it is time for us to open up,” Mayor Arturo Garino said.
Acting City Manager Robert Thompson said some city departments might need a few more days to reopen, and added that various protective measures will still be required in city buildings. At a previous council meeting, Thompson indicated that all city staff who wanted a COVID-19 vaccine had received one.
At the Public Works Department on Hohokam Drive, Planning and Zoning Director Samuel Paz said there weren’t any changes to public access on Thursday – they were still handling most transactions at the entryway, but the department never stopped allowing certain meetings inside the building.
At the Nogales Public Library on Grand Avenue, a staffer said the library had started allowing computer use of up to 30 minutes, but residents still weren’t allowed to browse the bookshelves. Instead, staff were still offering to search for books that patrons were looking for.
Early Thursday afternoon, a receptionist at City Hall said fewer than 15 people had come into the building so far that day.
The council voted to shut city buildings to visitors beginning on March 27, 2020, as the pandemic took hold in Arizona and the local community. This week’s partial reopening comes on the heels of Santa Cruz County’s move to open its facilities to the public in mid-March.
There was some discussion on Wednesday about how Nogales City Council meetings would proceed, and elected officials indicated they weren’t planning to let the public back into the council chambers, as was normally permitted prior to the pandemic.
Still, the mayor said he did want to give residents the opportunity to speak during a call to the public, something that’s been notably absent from council meetings during the pandemic. The disappearance of the call to the pubic at city meetings, and the impact of such a loss on participatory democracy, was the subject of a report published in the March 30 edition of the NI.
“We will allow people to be out in the lobby, to come and present whatever they want to present on call to the public,” Garino said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I know there’s quite a few residents that do have something they want to say to the community especially on certain items that we put on the agenda. So let’s offer that opportunity for the residents of Nogales.”