County, Cities Declare Emergency Over COVID-19
Both the city and county of Eau Claire are now under a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which continues to spread across the nation and state. On Tuesday evening, the Eau Claire City Council and the Eau Claire County Board passed resolutions declaring a state of emergency; the Altoona City Council was expected to take a similar step Wednesday night.
Considering that both the state of Wisconsin (as of March 12) and the entire United States (as of March 13) have also been declared to be in states of emergency, what does such a declaration mean locally?
“It provides for several things,” Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters said in an interview Wednesday. “It provides for really expanded emergency powers by the city manager to have flexibility to adapt to this rapidly changing situation.” For example, Peters will have the ability to temporary modify or suspend local rules regarding everything from public works contracts to cooperating with other governments for emergency services.
In addition, the resolution will allow City Council members to attend meetings remotely, rather than in person, and allow the cancelation of non-essential city board and committee meetings. And it revokes prior city approval for special events being held through April 29, when the state of emergency is scheduled to end. (However, because of the emergency declaration, Peters expects he will be able to help organizations reschedule these events without having to return to the City Council for approval a second time.)
Meanwhile, the resolution passed by the Eau Claire County Board declared a 60-day period of emergency in the county. During that time, County Board Chairman Nick Smiar and County Administrator Kathryn Schauf are authorized to coordinate the county’s emergency management response. Smiar will also have the ability to cancel meetings and allow county board members to take part in meetings remotely.
“Local government is working cooperatively,” Peters said. “These emergency measures were put it at all levels of local government. And the leadership of the local government – the two cities and the county – are working together on a daily basis to have coordinated standards and expectations of service for all the residents in our area. … We’re trying to have consistency in how we can continue those essential services as well as to assist each other to keep those essential services available.”