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story.lead_photo.caption Members of Fulton's municipal government practice social distancing Tuesday evening during an emergency meeting. The meeting formalized emergency measures already in place in Fulton, including the suspension of utility shutoffs. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

An emergency ordinance passed Tuesday night by the Fulton City Council formalizes emergency measures already in place within the city.

It also gives the mayor the ability to enact certain other measures in a time of civil emergency. Many Missouri cities' codes already place special powers in the hands of city government in times of emergency, but until last night, Fulton's city code didn't explicitly do so.

"We've been in business for a couple hundred years, but we've never had to declare an emergency before," Mayor Lowe Cannell said.

Cannell declared a state of emergency last Friday, alongside Callaway County and other county municipalities. As of Tuesday afternoon, 10 cases of COVID-19 had been detected in Fulton, all among students at William Woods University.

The city government had previously closed city facilities to the public and announced plans to waive penalties for unpaid city accounts and suspend utility shutoffs.

"We looked through our ordinances and realized we didn't have anything on the books that allowed these activities to happen," Fulton Director of Administration Bill Johnson said.

That's not to say the measures already in place are invalid, Johnson clarified. But making sure actions the city might need to take during an emergency are formally detailed in the city code puts Fulton on safer legal footing.

Debate

The ordinance's text makes it clear COVID-19 drove its drafting.

"The novel coronavirus is a global pandemic that has caused the United States of America and the State of Missouri to declare states of emergency," it reads. "City residents have tested positive for COVID-19, which presents an imminent threat of widespread illness within the city and requires emergency action on the national, state and local level to lessen the spread of the disease."

The bill adds several new sections to Chapter 34 of Fulton's city code allowing the mayor to declare an emergency under certain conditions, including imminent danger of health crises as declared by the federal government, state government or local health department.

Other emergency situations include things like imminent danger of a civilian uprising, serious disruption of city utility functions, natural disasters, a declaration of emergency at the federal or state level, and so on.

When declaring an emergency, a mayor may set an expiration date (which can be extended as needed), or the mayor or City Council can declare the emergency to be concluded and order normal operations and regulations to resume.

Once an emergency is declared, the mayor, or a person he designates, will have certain additional powers beyond those the mayor usually holds.

The mayor will have to notify the City Council when planning to enact any of those powers. These emergency powers are comparable to ones laid out in Holts Summit's city code and those of other municipalities.

During Tuesday's meeting, council members debated over the inclusion of two powers listed: to impose emergency curfew regulations and to close business establishments (and/or regulate their hours or operations as necessary for the safety of the business or city residents).

"I don't think we should allow any one person to have the ability to set curfews or close businesses," Ward 4 council member Rick Shiverdecker said. "I don't think any one person should have that much authority."

Cannell pointed out those powers are "nothing unusual" among Missouri cities. Holts Summit's city code makes nearly identical provisions.

"We're listing all the things a mayor may need to do in any type of emergency," Ward 2's Jeff Stone said.

Ballard Simmons, of Ward 1, gave the example of a tornado.

"During a tornado, you might not be able to get the council together for a quorum, so then what can you do?"

He suggested adding a provision that would give City Council members a certain time period during which they can override orders put in place by the mayor.

Moore said he was reluctant to make emergency measures such as curfew or closing businesses dependent on consensus between council members and the mayor.

"You get another council that doesn't like their mayor (in the future), and we'll have a problem on our hands in a state of emergency," he said.

Ultimately, City Council members voted 7-1 to remove those two powers from the ordinance, with Ward 4's Steve Moore being the sole opposing vote. With those provisions removed, the only local governmental entity with the power to close businesses or impose a curfew is the county health department, Johnson said.

Cannell said it's likely the city will amend the bill further during future council meetings.

The ordinance

With the bill now voted into the city code, Fulton's mayor now has the following additional abilities during a declared emergency:

1. The right to use employees of the city to assist in the preservation of life, limb and property.

2. The power to close streets and sidewalks to the use of the public.

The power to close any city-owned buildings and other facilities to the use of the general public.

3. The power to reassign all administrative and executive employees doing non administrative work as non-administrative or non-exempt employees during the declared emergency.

4. The power to postpone license and permit processing and deadlines.

5. The power to waive penalties for city services and functions.

6. The power to postpone or waive utility shutoffs.

7. The power to amend work schedules for city staff, following the advice and consent of the director of administration.

8. The power to establish immediate or delayed effective dates.

In addition to the measures mentioned at the top of the article, the mayor read an emergency order formally enacting the following (based on powers 4, 7 and 8):

All city license and permit deadlines (business, liquor and other licenses that may be due during the period of the emergency) are extended until further notice.

Fulton employees shall work in accordance with the schedules and plans put forward by the director of administration and department heads.

The orders will be active until further notice — "notice" being a declaration by the mayor or a City Council resolution.

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