Evart revises emergency powers declaration

Resolution places limitations on authority

The Evart city council approved a revised version of the emergency powers act during its meeting last week, limiting the scope, time and expenditures allowed. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

The Evart city council approved a revised version of the emergency powers act during its meeting last week, limiting the scope, time and expenditures allowed. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

EVART — In April 2020, on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, the Evart City Council passed a resolution giving the city manager the authority to make decisions regarding essential public services during a pandemic.

“The city manager shall serve as the emergency management coordinator for the city of Evart…and shall have the authority to take such actions that the city manager shall deem to be in the best interest of the city ... ,” the resolution states.

After reviewing the resolution, Osceola County Emergency Management director Mark Watkins advised the council to revise the resolution stating that it, in essence, put the city manager as the emergency manager for the city, which was not the intention of the resolution.

Councilman Sean Duffy, who was on the committee to revise the resolution, told the council that although they had good intentions with the emergency management act granting emergency powers to the city manager, the resolution did not “mesh well” with the county emergency management plan.

“The city wanted to branch out with their own emergency management plan, which required some things that we needed to do that were not in compliance, whereas, as long as we operated under the county’s authority and under Mark’s (Watkins) leadership, then we would be in compliance,” Duffy said. “He (Watkins) assisted us in drafting policies and procedures that would keep us in compliance.”

City manager Richard Lewis explained the new resolution included the proper way to authorize emergency management powers where the city manager would work in coordination with the county emergency manager to take the necessary actions during an emergency.

The revised resolution also includes the scope, time and expenditure limits for emergency actions.

Regarding the limitations on authorization of funding, councilman Don Elliott expressed concern that limiting the city manager to a $10,000 expenditure could cause delays in critical decision making.

“The $10,000 limit vacates the purpose of this entire resolution,” Elliott said. “As we have seen in a recent minor emergency, that number is grossly low. The last thing I want to see is the city manager worrying about trying to get a quorum of the council meeting in order to make an important life or death decision.”

Elliott suggested the section regarding spending limits be eliminate and replaced with language that would require the city manager to call a council meeting at some point without “tying the managers hands” with regards to emergency decisions.

Other council members disagreed stating that they believed it was necessary to include the limitation on spending.

“The way I read this is more of saying okay you have enough room to start moving things and get things done, but by the same token, you do have the accountability in there,” Lewis said. "I see the roll of the city manager as calling everyone together and saying, ‘this is what we need to do.’ This is a small enough community that I think you can get everyone together quickly enough. If you want to take the $10,000 and move it up to a higher amount, that is fine, but I think you need to have some limitations in there.”

Councilman Mark Hildebrand agreed stating that the previous emergency from the latest storms that caused power outages and downed several trees throughout the city was the biggest emergency they have had in a while, which required more than $10,000 in immediate expenditures.

“I thought we were very well informed, and things were handled quickly and appropriately,” Hildebrand said. “We had to spend more than $10,000 before we were able to evaluate what we were spending. I don’t feel comfortable saying spend whatever you need to, because I think there should be some accountability, but on the other hand, I think $10,000 may be a little low based on what we just went through.”

“We can debate the dollar amount, but I will not support a resolution that doesn’t contain some sort of limitations,” Duffy added.

Mayor Emerick agreed, suggesting a limit of $25,000.

“$25,000 is what I sketched out here,” Emerick said. “That is about what we sent initially those first couple of days (after the storms). We approved it, but we didn’t get together and meet to approve it until (later). I also think it is very important we have a limit in there.”

Council agreed to raise the spending limit to $25,000 and the resolution passed unanimously.