In professionally cleaned and defogged chambers, the Auburn City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring a state of local emergency in response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Auburn and across the state at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The declaration by councilmembers, who sat in two tiers at separate tables, authorizes the city to bypass regulations pertaining to the performance of public work; entering into contracts; incurring obligations; employment of temporary workers; utilization of volunteer workers; rental of equipment; imposing a public safety curfew; and closing any or all public buildings owned or leased by the city.
The declaration runs through April 6, but can be extended by the mayor for up to two additional three-week periods.
"Basically, the state of local emergency lets us spend money without having to come back to you beforehand to get that approved," said Auburn City Manager Jim Buston, who added that he currently only had the authority to spend up to $15,000 without prior approval from the council . "This would be in the event that we would have to hire additional staff, do additional things that are directly related to this emergency of the Covid-19 virus. I would not have to come to you ahead of time to get funding for those types of things."
The council would also have to approve a separate resolution imposing a curfew on residents.
"But before we do that, we would have to vet that very thoroughly, take some time to understand all of the ramifications and then come back to council for your approval to do that," Buston said. "What we're hoping is that the curfew is unnecessary."
The council has the power to impose a curfew but not to close local businesses. That power resides with the state.
Restrictions on bars, restaurants, day cares and nursing homes that were imposed by Birmingham on Monday and extended by Gov. Kay Ivey to other counties, like Tuscaloosa County, could be extended further to other counties, including Lee County, if not statewide in the coming days.
"Now I can’t say for sure, but it seems like we may never have to get to a curfew because I would expect that the governor and the state health department, at some point, will declare all of Alabama like they have for Jefferson County," said Buston. "They have the authority to close businesses. I expect that’s coming."
Instead of imposing a curfew, the City Council passed another resolution that strongly encourages Auburn residents to abide by the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health. The resolution also encourages adhering to the following recommendations:
• All non-essential and non-emergency travel is strongly discouraged between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
• Non-work-related public and private gatherings of persons of 25 or more is strongly discouraged.
• Those businesses routinely providing services to gatherings of persons of 25 or more are strongly encouraged to limit numbers of patrons such that the six-foot social distancing standard can be maintained.
• That citizens avail themselves of city of Auburn online services whenever possible.
"What we do have is the power of the bully pulpit, and this is the resolution, very strongly worded, asking our citizens to abide by what the governor, the CDC and the president have asked us to do," said Buston. "And in the case of our businesses, especially those that cannot enforce distancing like we have here, to not allow more than 25 people in their establishment, not unless they can enforce some type of social distancing .... It is fairly strong-worded resolution. We cannot force people to abide by it, but it is telling the citizens of the city of Auburn what this council is expecting of them or would like them to do.
"We want you to comply with what the state officials are telling us. If you don’t, there’s the potential that the council will consider a curfew. Now before we consider a curfew, we’re going to make sure that we vet that very closely, make sure that we take into consideration all of the fallouts. We know that people don’t just work 8 to 5; there are people that work in factories or people that work night shifts. There are all kinds of things that we have to consider, so we don’t want to go into that quickly."