Council Meeting of 3/16/20 – Local State of Emergency

Mar 17, 2020 | City Council

Legistar information related to this meeting can be found here:

My voting charts for this meeting can be found here:

The City Council meeting of March 16, 2020 occurred during a locally and state-declared emergency due to an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Only six Council Members were present and seating was arranged so that everyone could be six feet away from each other.

Item DC-6 was added to the agenda at 5:43 p.m. and is a budget amendment requiring eight votes. It allocates $200,000 to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to meet the anticipated emergency needs of their tenants. Eight Council Members were not present, so this agenda item was not approved. I believe that even without an effective vote last night, essential funding such as this can still occur, under the terms of our local state of emergency.

Item DC-7 was added to the agenda at 6:42 p.m., while Council met in closed session to discuss the City’s contract with our attorney, Stephen Postema. The language of DC-7 declares a local state of emergency that will continue until Council specifically votes to lift it. Without this affirmative vote by Council, the Mayor is empowered to declare a local emergency lasting only seven days. By approving this item, Council invoked Chapter 15 of the City Code of Ordinances, sections 1:327. Explanation can be found here:

The practical effect of this agenda item was less than clear in discussion at the table last night, but City Administrator Tom Crawford tells me this morning: the Governor’s declaration of emergency is open ended and may not match local desires and needs. Our local declaration gives the Mayor and Council power to act locally much more quickly. I inquired about how this item landed on the agenda so late and the answer was that staff was simply overwhelmed yesterday.

Because our city government is a weak Mayor/strong administrator model, Section 1:328 of our Code might be more relevant to understanding what this local emergency means in terms of helping the City respond more quickly to local needs:

Our city administrator is empowered to handle our Emergency Management Program, overseeing “the organization, administration and operation of disaster and emergency services and Disaster Relief Forces.” Under a state of emergency, the city administrator is empowered to “appropriate and expend funds make contracts, obtain and distribute equipment, materials, and supplies for emergency or disaster purposes, and undertake any action necessary to provide for the health and safety of persons and property, including emergency assistance to the victims of an emergency or disaster.” The City’s Emergency Operations Team is working diligently to meet our community needs under these unusual circumstances.