Commissioners approve COVID-19 policies

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Fort Scott City Commissioners on Tuesday approved an amended resolution regarding declaration of a local state of emergency.

Director of Finance Susan Bancroft said language was changed on the resolution, which failed to pass during the commission’s March 31 meeting.

“In order to get some grant funding, you may need to declare a local disaster,” Bancroft said. “This gives the commission the ability to do a 30-minute notice and have special meetings in the event you need to make decisions quickly. It expands that so you don’t have to give a 24-hour notice to the public. But it also declares we’re under a disaster.”

Bancroft read the resolution for commissioners, which declares a local state of emergency, and also “temporarily” expands the authority of the city manager to act on behalf of the city. The resolution also ratifies previous decisions regarding the COVID-19 emergency.

The resolution states “the health, safety and welfare of persons within the city of Fort Scott are of critical importance and have been endangered by the threat and spread of COVID-19,” and “the governing body of the city of Fort Scott, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic desires to protect the public health, safety and welfare by declaring a local state of emergency,” and “the declaration of a local state of emergency is necessary as such a declaration has been a necessary precondition, in past disasters, for the community and its members to apply for and/or accept state and/or federal disaster relief offered to mitigate the effects of this calamity.”

The resolution also states that in response to emergency decisions, the mayor or city manager “may call for a special meeting with the commission with no less than a thirty-minute notice to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The resolution will take effect and be in force immediately upon adoption and “shall remain in effect until future action is taken” by the governing body or the State of Disaster Emergency declared by Bourbon County has expired.”

“So basically, in layman’s terms, no extra power is given or anything of that nature?,” Commissioner Kevin “Skitch” Allen asked Bancroft.

“No,” Bancroft said. “It’s just calling a special meeting.”

Under the resolution, commissioners could have a public meeting to make decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commission unanimously passed the resolution.

Commissioners on March 31 discussed a resolution that would allow for city leaders to move to conducting meetings once a month instead of twice a month until the governor’s executive order has been suspended. That version of the resolution also stated City Manager Dave Martin is “hereby vested, temporarily with the authority to make all decisions in regard to personnel and city operations without the need to obtain commission approval for said action” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 31, Commissioner Randy Nichols made a motion to approve that resolution, and Commissioner Lindsey Watts seconded, but Watts withdrew her second after more discussion took place on the matter. Several commissioners talked about being available to attend meetings and whether there was a need for the resolution. Nichols’ motion died for lack of a second.

Although it wasn’t unanimous, commissioners also on Tuesday approved an ordinance that would appropriate the amounts for each fund in the budget for the remainder of 2020. The ordinance would allow for the city’s bills to be paid if the commission isn’t able to meet. Bancroft said wording in the ordinance was changed from “for the remainder of 2020” to “until the governor rescinds her executive order.”

“In the event commissioners get sick and are not able to meet as a governing body, this allows for Dave and myself to approve expenditures to be paid to vendors, until the governor lifts the executive order,” Bancroft said. “It keeps business flowing as usual.”

Bancroft said city staff “will follow all statutory guidelines regarding the budget.” She said currently, “we’re only spending for essential now to keep business going.”

Commissioner Pete Allen asked Bancroft, “Why would we as the commission want to approve such an ordinance?”

“In the event we can’t meet, we can go ahead and approve payments,” Bancroft said. “If we continue to meet regularly, we will bring those to you.”

Pete Allen asked if there were examples of other communities in Kansas that have put in place similar policies. Bancroft said the ordinance before them was recommended by the League of Kansas Municipalities.

Jeff Deane, city attorney, said “this is the standard language” the League of Kansas Municipalities “is putting out.

“If all commissioners were ill, this is to have continuity of government,” Deane said. “It allows us to pay salaries and keep the lights on. Many municipalities in the Kansas City area are doing it.”

“All other laws apply,” he said. “They can’t go rogue on you. If you can still meet, you can approve things in a quorum. But if there’s a situation where nobody is available to meet, and these police officers and firefighters have to be paid. We gotta figure out a way to still run government. If we wait for you to vote, it’s too late to act. This is put in place in the hopes we never have to use this.”

“And if we put this off two weeks, what happens in the meantime?” Commissioner Randy Nichols said. “I don’t see why we don’t go ahead and pass this. It’s recommended by the League of Kansas Municipalities. I think we’re splitting hairs a little bit.”

Bancroft said the ordinance was “printed as a recommendation” from the LKM website. The LKM is suggested cities put similar ordinances into effect. In response to a question from Pete Allen, Deane confirmed the language in the ordinance is recommended by the LKM.

“Aren’t the two things we approved tonight kind of contradictory?” Kevin Allen said, referring to the ordinance and the resolution for declaring a local state of emergency.

“We need to have authority somewhere for somebody to act, for if the failsafes fail,” Deane said. “There’s a danger of not having it on the books. If you want to pass it and refine it, that’s fine.”

After Nichols made a motion to accept the ordinance as written and Mayor Jolynne Mitchell seconded, Kevin Allen and Lindsey Watts voted yes. Pete Allen voted no.

Another story on the commission meeting will appear in a future edition of the Tribune.