Delaware City Council approved an ordinance March 18 authorizing emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Following current state guidelines that no gathering should exceed 10 people, the special meeting was held by video conference, with participants sitting in their homes or offices or alone at City Hall.

During a typical council meeting, 13 people – seven council members and six city officials – sit at microphones in City Hall’s council chambers.

>> Read the ordinance text <<

The March 18 session was livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page, using Cisco Webex video conferencing.

City attorney Darren Shulman told council the ordinance doesn’t give the city any powers it doesn’t already have.

Instead, he said, one of its main goals is to transfer some emergency powers to the city manager, designed to keep the city running in case council is unable to meet with a quorum if a state of emergency has been declared.

It also:

• Gives the city manager authority to declare a state of emergency, if needed, to continue city services or comply with an order from the state of Ohio.

• Transfers duties of boards and commissions to the city staff and council while restrictions on meetings are in place, allowing business to move forward.

• Authorizes “remote” meetings by video conference when requirements of Ohio’s open-meetings laws are met.

City Manager Tom Homan said any decision on declaring a state of emergency would be made based largely on input and recommendations from fire Chief John Donahue and police Chief Bruce Pijanowski.

The chiefs are monitoring the situation in the city minute by minute, Homan said.

“Our protocol is that the fire chief acts as our lead here on the ground, but he’s in close coordination with Chief Pijanowski,” Homan said.

Donahue and Pijanowski told council they are in frequent contact and give the city staff daily updates on local conditions.

Shulman said the city manager’s emergency authority, if implemented, would end when council can meet with a quorum.

It’s also possible to end the ordinance’s provisions with a council resolution, he said.

Council also discussed how to handle a public hearing, scheduled for the Monday, March 23, council meeting, on a rezoning amendment and conditional-use permit for the Terra Alta subdivision, on about 472.9 acres north of Braumiller Road, east of Pollock Road and west of Berlin Station Road.

Such hearings allow the public to attend and speak to council. At issue was whether commenting on a Facebook livestream would be sufficient access for comment during a hearing.

Council clerk Elaine McCloskey said one option would be to allow some parties, such as the Terra Alta petitioners, to comment in advance. Also discussed was having a city employee monitor Facebook comments while the meeting was in session.

“This is radical times for democracy right here,” said council member Cory Hoffman.

He said in-person council meetings and livestreaming each have liabilities, but the city should lead by example in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

It appeared from the consensus, Homan said, the March 23 session will be a remote livestreamed meeting.

Also during the session, Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle said council’s April meetings will be canceled, unless needed to respond to an emergency.

Shulman noted council can schedule special meetings 24 hours in advance.

Homan said the COVID-19 crisis means “it appears we are probably headed into a recession.”

The city is monitoring its finances and is in sound financial shape with adequate reserves, he said.

But if conditions emerge as they did at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, he added, the city might have to look at some changes.

The Delaware County commissioners approved a similar emergency resolution March 12.

The resolution delegates to the county administrator all functions of the county commissioners necessary to implement directives of Gov. Mike DeWine's emergency order regarding Covid-19, and to adequately prepare Delaware County offices, agencies and employees to respond accordingly.

Delaware County commissioners approved a similar emergency resolution March 12. 

The resolution delegates to the county administrator all functions of the county commissioners necessary to implement directives of Gov. Mike DeWine's emergency order regarding COVID-19, and to adequately prepare Delaware County offices, agencies and employees to respond accordingly.  

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