The Soldotna City Council will be holding a special emergency meeting Thursday night to potentially declare a state of emergency in the City of Soldotna and grant the city manager emergency powers in response to the spread of the new coronavirus. If enacted, Soldotna will be the fourth city in the Kenai Peninsula Borough to declare a state of emergency this week.
At the Kenai City Council meeting Wednesday, the council voted to issue an emergency declaration, giving City Manager Paul Ostrander emergency powers for up to 90 days after the emergency declaration. The cities of Seward and Homer have also issued emergency declarations this week.
On Wednesday, the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was announced in Seward by city officials.
Emergency Ordinance 2020-008 , if enacted by the Soldotna City Council, would have several different impacts. First, the ordinance would declare a state of emergency in the City of Soldotna that will continue as long as the ordinance remains in effect.
The ordinance would also give City Manager Stephanie Queen “Emergency Executive Authority” for the duration of the ordinance.
This would authorize the city manager to issue executive orders that alter how city business is conducted and the regulations of any city department “if compliance with the provisions of the statute, order, or regulation would prevent, substantially impede, or delay action necessary to cope with the emergency,” according to the language in the ordinance.
Queen said on Wednesday that the emergency powers would give her the ability to make minor changes to department policies in order to protect city employees and facilities as well as the general public from the spread of the virus. For example, municipal code requires that any purchase made by the city requires at least three bids before it can go through, but the emergency powers would allow Queen to bypass that requirement.
“These aren’t big, drastic decisions like you’re seeing from the state and in Anchorage,” Queen said. “But if my employees find someone that’s selling Clorox wipes, I can go ahead and greenlight that purchase.”
Queen said that any decision made by her during this time would be put into writing as an executive order and become public record in an effort to maintain transparency in a time of increased executive authority.
Beyond the emergency declaration and the additional powers granted to the city manager, the ordinance would temporarily suspend a section of the Soldotna Municipal Code that limits how many meetings council members can attend telephonically in order to encourage social distancing. Council members will be allowed to participate in regular and emergency meetings telephonically as many times as necessary, rather than being limited to six per year.
In addition to allowing telephonic participation, the ordinance states that “Council members who attend a meeting in person are encouraged to remain three to six feet away from another person in attendance.”
Queen said that the city will keep its meetings open to the public, but the City Clerk’s office is also implementing alternative ways for the public to participate.
The public can participate in meetings by submitting a written comment prior to the meeting or signing up for telephonic testimony, which can be done by calling the City Clerk’s Office at 907-262-9107. Public seating at the meetings will be spaced 6 feet apart to promote social distancing.
Soldotna City Council meetings are broadcast live at the city’s website at Soldotna.org/streaming.