Hilliard City Council on Monday, March 16, voted unanimously to name City Manager Michelle Crandall as acting emergency-management director and vested her with the power to suspend or amend sections of the city code as necessary.

The measure is related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has brought sweeping action statewide in an effort to contain the spread of the disease.

“The coronavirus situation is quickly evolving, and it is important that the city be able to act and react quickly and nimbly,” Hilliard City Council President Andy Teater said after council’s March 16 emergency meeting. Teater also is the city’s ceremonial mayor.

Earlier in the day, Teater had a declaration of emergency, pursuant to section 2.14 of the city charter, according to David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.

Council unanimously approved Resolution 20-10. The 7-0 vote was approved by the six members in council chambers and Les Carrier, who voted remotely via speakerphone

Resolution 20-10 concurs “with the mayor’s declaration, establishing an emergency-management director, emergency powers and duties, and declaring an emergency.”

In a separate 7-0 vote, the resolution was approved as an emergency measure, making it immediately effective upon its passage.

The title of an emergency-management director, when necessary, may be delegated to a designated individual, Ball said.

In this instance, it will be Crandall, he said.

“This will allow the city to respond quickly to emerging needs, issues and opportunities in the coming weeks,’ Ball said. “These temporary modifications will be communicated on the city’s website and other communication channels, as appropriate.”

The resolution granting Crandall emergency powers does not have a sunset, a fact that was called to attention by council member Omar Tarazi, who suggested language be added to establish a specific date or to align when Ohio ended a state of emergency, but Teater replied he was “comfortable” with the resolution as presented, and it “would be used properly.”

“This legislation is a logical and necessary step to empower the city manager to make certain temporary changes to code that are in the best interest of our community without waiting for the next council meeting or scheduling an emergency meeting,” Teater said.

However, Crandall and Teater indicated future action would be taken, when appropriate, to declare an end to the citywide emergency.

Crandall said she would inform council members about decisions made under her new authority and expected those actions to include waiving regulations concerning the placement of some kinds of temporary signs and granting city employees extended sick leave, if needed.

As a more specific example, Hilliard restaurants could be granted some relief by being allowed temporary signs to advertise carryout and delivery services, Ball said.

Gov. Mike DeWine on March 15 ordered all restaurants and bars closed indefinitely to diners, though carryout and delivery orders still were permitted.

The accrual of sick leave for city employees is “very specific,” and, Crandall said, she could act to allow employees extended time off, if needed.

Crandall told council members she has a meeting Tuesday, March 17, to explore employee contingencies and another on Wednesday, March 18, with various nonprofit organizations to explore how they can marshal resources to help Hilliard residents.

No further formal action was taken by council March 16, but council member Kelly McGivern suggested that the city could assist residents who become unemployed because of business closures in other ways, which included suspending refuse-collection fees for residents who proved a hardship or even suspending income-tax collection.

But Crandall did not appear to support the suggestion.

“The city could be potentially hit hard, as well, and we will need to have our reserve funds so we can safely operate,” Crandall said.

The city also would need to maintain a reserve fund for use to recover from a recession.

But McGivern reiterated the city’s reserve fund “is exactly the situation” for which it was created, and the city should look at “aggressive” ways to assist those in need.

Crandall and Teater replied other avenues existed, including support from the city’s nonprofit community.

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