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Council approves emergency powers, childcare for first responders

An emergency declaration giving the mayor special authority to respond to the coronavirus crisis passed the Minot City Council in a special meeting Thursday.

The version was amended slightly from the declaration passed on first reading to give the council the ability to cancel any action of the mayor.

Council member Paul Pitner said he shares concerns in the community about putting too much power in the hands of one person.

“But in this case, we are dealing with public health and safety. This action is responding to what’s going on not only in our city, our state, our country, but around the world,” he said.

“The intent here is to leave options open, given circumstances we cannot predict,” council member Josh Wolsky said.

Mayor Shaun Sipma has said that any emergency powers exercised are likely to be operational and in response to directives of the North Dakota Department of Health and First District Health Unit.

Among powers are those to establish curfews; close businesses; close streets and control access to certain areas; temporarily suspend or modify any regulation or ordinance of the city for 60 days; terminate or suspend utilities; control use, sale or distribution of food, water, fuel and other commodities; quarantine or segregate people to avoid disease transmission; evacuate neighborhoods; purchase or authorize purchase or lease of supplies; hire contractors, up to $30,000; utilize private property, with compensation, if necessary for emergency response; remove or decontaminate any structure or site; and to undertake other functions reasonably believed to be appropriate to protect the health, safety and welfare.

The original version was amended as proposed by council member Stephan Podrygula to allow the city council to terminate any local emergency or reverse any procedural act or order of the mayor at any time. It also removed the mayor’s power to cancel or limit city meetings, although the mayor still may convene or postpone meetings.

The count voted to grant Sipma’s request to remove the authority to suspend or limit the sale of firearms. Sipma indicated he was not comfortable with that authority in light of the Second Amendment.

In other business, the council approved spending up to $40,000 to support child care for the children of first responders. Minot Public Schools will be providing space, personnel from its after-school program and food assistance to support the program. The council approved a contract with child-care provider The Learning Tree for the service. The contract runs through April 20.

Eligible are families of law enforcement officers with the Minot Police Department and Ward County Sheriff’s Office, firefighters with the City of Minot, water and wastewater employees identified by Minot Public Works as essential and healthcare or community ambulance employees identified by Trinity Health as essential. Emergency personnel will not be responsible for costs related to the services other than costs of materials and supplies not covered under the contract, such as diapers and formula.

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