City council passes emergency declaration

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Benson Mayor Terri Collins signed an emergency peacetime declaration during a meeting with key city staff Sunday night at the city office to address the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The order gives the mayor and city broad authority for three days to implement measures to address an emergency situation. After three days, for emergency powers to continue they must be approved by the full city council.

At the 5 p.m. meeting were City Manager Rob Wolfington, Director of Public Works Dan Gens, and Police Chief Ian Hodge. Director of Finance Glen Pederson joined the group by phone.

Meeting in the Benson Armory Monday night with audience chairs spaced six feet apart, and with members of the council spread out, the emergency order signed by the mayor the day before was unanimously approved by the council. It allows the order to remain in place during the emergency.

The State of Minnesota is doing a great job with the implementation of measures in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Wolfington said. But there may be situations unique to the City of Benson that may require council action. The provisions of the emergency declaration cover a broad range of potential areas for city action.

Future Benson council meetings may take place through teleconferencing to avoid gathering city leaders in the same place.

“Whenever in the judgment of the mayor any unprecedented or severe catastrophe or disaster shall warrant it, an emergency may be declared and the provisions of this chapter may be invoked,” the city code says. Disasters include pandemics and epidemics. “Any order, or proclamation declaring, continuing, or terminating a local emergency shall be given prompt and general publicity and shall be filed in the office of the city administrator. 

 “A declaration of a local emergency shall invoke necessary portions of the response and recovery aspects of applicable local or inter-jurisdictional disaster plans and may authorize aid and assistance thereunder.”

Among the powers given to the mayor through the emergency provisions of the ordinance are:

 (1)   Suspend, limit, cancel, convene, reschedule, postpone, continue, or relocate all meetings of the City Council, and any city committee, commission, board, authority, or other city body as deemed appropriate by the Mayor.

 (2)   Suspend or limit the sale, distribution, dispensing, or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives, and combustible products and require the closing of those businesses or parts of businesses insofar as the sale, distribution, dispensing, or transportation of these items are concerned.

 (3)   Establish a curfew during such hours of the days or nights and affecting such categories of persons as may be designated.

 (4)   Require the closing of business establishments.

 (5)   Prohibit the sale or distribution within the city of any products which could be employed in a manner which would constitute a danger to public safety.

 (6)   Control, restrict, allocate, or regulate the use, sale, production, or distribution of food, water, fuel, clothing, and/or other commodities, materials, goods, services, and resources.

 (7)   Require emergency services of any city officer or employee. If regular city forces are determined to be inadequate, then to acquire the services of such other personnel as the mayor can obtain that are available, including citizen volunteers. All duly authorized persons rendering emergency services shall be entitled to the privileges and immunities as are provided by state law to other registered and identified disaster emergency workers.

 (8)   Utilize all available resources of the city as reasonably necessary to manage the disaster or emergency.

 (9)   Purchase or lease materials, supplies, or equipment during the local disaster or emergency, and to authorize any or all agencies or city officials to directly purchase or lease those materials, supplies, or equipment essential to continue the work of the city involved without the advertisement of bids. Purchases or leases exceeding the amount of $30,000 shall require prior approval by the City Manager and City Director of Finance.

 (10)   Hire and/or contract for construction, engineering, architectural, building, electrical, plumbing, and/or other professional or construction services essential to the continuation of the activities of the city without the advertisement for bids or compliance with procurement requirements. Such contracts shall not exceed $30,000 without prior approval having been given by the City Manager and City Director of Finance.

 (11)   Establish and control routes of transportation, ingress or egress.

 (12)   Subject to any requirements established by law for compensation, utilize private property as necessary to cope with emergency or disaster conditions.

 (13)   Appropriate and expend funds, exclude contracts, authorize the obtaining and acquisition of property, equipment, services, supplies, and materials without strict compliance with procurement regulations or procedures.

 (14)   Order the isolation, quarantine, or segregation of persons or animals when reasonably necessary to prevent the introduction or transmission of infectious or contagious agents or toxins. Any such isolation or quarantine must be by the least restrictive means necessary to prevent the exposure, transmission, or spreading of a communicable, or potentially communicable, disease, agent or toxin to others and may include, but is not limited to, confinement to private homes or other private or public premises.

(15)   Exercise such powers and functions in light of the exigencies of emergency or disaster including the waiving of compliance with any time-consuming procedures and formalities, including notices, as may be prescribed by law.

 (16)   To issue any and all such orders or undertake such other functions and activities as the mayor reasonably believes is required or appropriate to protect the health, safety and welfare of persons or property within the city.