During a special meeting held Wednesday afternoon, Delaware City Council passed an ordinance related to emergency measures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. To comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation prohibiting group meetings, council met virtually via Cisco Webex while live-streaming the web conference on the city’s Facebook page.
“The first thing (the ordinance) does is it take steps to comply with existing government recommendations and requirements, and at the same help prevent the situation from getting worse,” City Attorney Darren Shulman said. “The second thing it does is put us in a position where the city can continue to provide services if the situation does deteriorate.”
The ordinance allows for council to meet remotely so long as certain conditions are met. Those conditions include verification of council members taking part in the meeting, like the video chat platform used for Wednesday’s meeting, and access to the discussion for the public.
In addition to allowing for remote meetings, the ordinance also transferred the power of the city’s boards and commissions to council in order to further prevent the need for staff to gather. Shulman said that in cases where those boards or commissions would normally make a recommendation to council, city staff will now write those recommendations, which council will then consider.
The ordinance goes on to give City Manager Tom Homan the authority to issue a state of emergency within the city if needed. Along with the ability to declare a state of emergency, Homan is also given various other powers that will enable him “to keep the government running,” according to Shulman, should a state of emergency not allow for a quorum — at least four council members — to meet.
“It is my sincere hope that none of these things ever get triggered,” Shulman said. “But what we don’t want to have is a situation, given how fast things are moving, is to lose four members of council and then (the city) is paralyzed. So, this gives us an emergency backup plan so we can keep going.”
The guidelines stipulated in the ordinance will only be in effect while council members are unable to meet in person, and the authority given to Homan is only for situations where council is unable to achieve a quorum.
Homan said any issuing of a state of emergency would be directed in large part by recommendations made to him by both Fire Chief John Donahue and Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski, as well as Delaware County Health Commissioner Sheila Hiddleson.
Shulman went on to explain the ordinance doesn’t give Homan any more governing power than the city already has. “All this is doing is delegating some of council’s powers to city staff if we are unable to meet,” he said.
Further discussion was held on what’s to come of future scheduled council meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 23, and has a public hearing as part of one of the agenda items. That meeting will be held virtually in the same fashion as Wednesday’s meeting, and anyone interested in speaking during the public hearing will need to either submit their comments before the meeting or interact via the Facebook stream.
Barring the need for an emergency special meeting, both April council meetings have been canceled.
Officials have closed all City of Delaware buildings to visitors. Residents are being encouraged to pay their utility bills online, but there is also a drop box available at City Hall for those who prefer to drop off their payments.
The city noted it has also temporarily suspended water disconnections for March. For those residents whose water has recently been disconnected, they are instructed to call 740-203-1250 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to arrange for water service reconnection. Residents can also drop off tax payments and paper returns outside City Hall in the red drop box.
All jury trials, civil or criminal, are suspended until after April 20. Most civil or criminal matters scheduled before a judge or magistrate are continued to at least April 20.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.