All municipalities in Clark County have declared civil emergencies in response to COVID-19, part of a deluge of updates from governments reacting to the virus.
Following actions at the state and federal level, the declarations give local governments broader powers in their efforts to combat the novel coronavirus. Residents wondering what that means, may find it useful to review how their city and county codes address such declarations.
While some variations exist, each municipality’s code contains similar language regarding civil emergencies. Camas, the county’s second-largest city, issued its declaration Wednesday.
Under the city code, the mayor can declare a civil emergency in the event of a “danger of injury to persons or damage to property.”
In Wednesday’s declaration, Camas described powers that will be exercised “in light of the exigencies of the situation without regard to the formalities prescribed by the state statues and rules, or by city ordinance (except for mandatory constitutional requirements).” The formalities that may be waived include — but are not limited to — budget law limitations, competitive bidding requirements, public work notices, contract initiation procedures, employment of temporary workers, equipment rental and purchase of supplies and equipment.
On Wednesday, Camas delegated to city department heads the authority to solicit quotes for contracts to combat the emergency and enter into contracts not exceeding $25,000. Mayor Barry McDonnell must still sign any contracts exceeding $25,000. Department heads may reassign staffers from their normal work duties to address the emergency and require additional working hours.
The code also gives the city the ability to close thoroughfares and impose curfews on some or all citizens. In more extreme circumstances, the city can ban sale or possession of items that may incite violence, such as alcohol and weapons.
Violating, refusing to comply with or interfering with any order or regulation given under the emergency declaration is unlawful. Anyone accused of a violation can be charged with a misdemeanor. If found guilty, they could serve up to 90 days in jail, pay up to a $300 fine or both.
Emergency declarations are typically terminated, as they were initiated, by the municipality’s top administrator. In Camas, the mayor, mayor pro-tem or three city councilors can amend, modify or terminate the declaration.
Subject to change
While each local government has drafted its own emergency declaration, updates are likely to follow. Washougal, for instance, first issued a declaration on March 13 before announcing a second on Tuesday.
The first declaration gives City Manager David Scott the authority, through executive orders, to use all city personnel, services, equipment and “additional acts necessary” to manage the emergency. It delegates similar authority to Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn and Fire Chief Nick Swinhart “for protection of public health, peace and order.” Other city department directors have similar powers as the ones outlined in the Camas declaration.
In the second declaration — a response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s ban Monday on gatherings of 50 or more people — the city canceled events that it permitted or sponsored and closed its public facilities. The cancellations and closures are in place through April 30, a date subject to change.
“The situation regarding our national and state response to COVID-19 is rapidly evolving,” Scott said in a news release announcing the second declaration. “We understand and empathize with the continuing and growing anxiety and uncertainty of how, or when, COVID-19 will evolve in our region and what the response will be if an outbreak does occur here.”
The ability to close public facilities may also help governments continue to function by minimizing health risks. Woodland is another city that announced, as part of its March 13 emergency declaration, that it would close all city-owned facilities to the public.
“If one employee contracts this virus, the ripple effect will be devastating for our community. We are acting before there is a potential problem. We cannot wait for the virus to show itself; we must be responsible and act now,” Mayor Will Finn said in a news release.
Emergency declarations can also place local governments in line for state and federal relief, as Yacolt Mayor Katie Listek explained in a letter to residents Tuesday.
“Similar to a flood, earthquake, or fire, the state and federal government (have) emergency funding for communities in times of disaster/emergency,” Listek wrote. “This declaration allows the Town of Yacolt to potentially benefit from these funding sources.”