Bexley City Council: Changes to emergency powers put on hold

Chris Bournea
ThisWeek
City of Bexley

Citing the ongoing need to respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Bexley City Council has postponed until early 2021 taking a vote on Ordinance 36-20, which would place limits on the ability of the mayor, police chief or city council president to declare a state of emergency in response to natural disasters, riots and other events that affect the safety of people and property. 

Council voted 5-2 on Sept. 22 to table the ordinance until February 2021, at which time council and the mayor said they could reassess the need to enact safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

Council members Monique Lampke, Troy Markham, Jen Robinson, Jessica Saad and Richard Sharp voted in favor of tabling the ordinance. Council President Lori Ann Feibel and Matt Klingler voted against that action. 

Ordinance 36-20 states “the existence of an emergency should not be used beyond the immediate needs of the emergency to bypass the normal legislative process, or to give on-going extraordinary powers to the Mayor or designated officials declaring the emergency.” 

If approved, the legislation would limit an emergency proclamation to 45 days or less and require council to approve any extension. 

Sharp, who introduced the ordinance Aug. 25, said the legislation is not in direct response to Mayor Ben Kessler’s handling of the city’s response thus far to the coronavirus, but rather to provide more governmental checks and balances in the future. 

“This is not a new provision that I’m proposing,” Sharp said. “It’s an amendment of the current provision of the mayor’s emergency powers, just adding some time limitations.” 

In voting to table the ordinance, Sharp said he agreed the city could use the next few months to monitor circumstances surrounding the coronavirus. 

Kessler said the issues Ordinance 36-20 raises are worth discussing, but he opposes the legislation because council already has the ability to limit the mayor’s emergency powers. 

“I do think it’s not the right time to be making these changes in the midst of the pandemic, especially because council does have ultimate authority in any of these issues,” Kessler said. “This is a power established by code that council can easily change any time they want to or they could overrule any given order at their will. Those checks and balances are fully in place.” 

Lampke said she supported tabling the ordinance to give council and the mayor more time to evaluate what actions are needed to respond to the coronavirus. 

“My thought on this proposed ordinance that it is premature,” Lampke said. “With the upcoming flu season added to our pandemic and not knowing what the next three to six months are going to hold, I think I am concerned that we would be trying to anticipate what the next year of this pandemic is going to look like.” 

Markham said the issue may be more appropriate for the city’s Charter Review Commission, which is studying the city’s charter and recommending revisions that could be placed on the ballot for voters to approve. 

While Markham said he couldn’t support moving forward with the ordinance at the present time, “this is something that I would really like for us to … spend some time thinking about.” 

editorial@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNews