Dover council approves emergency ordinance in first virtual meeting

DOVER — While the first teleconference of a Dover City Council meeting on Monday night had its moments of small glitches — namely a couple of brief sound and technical issues — the virtual meeting did manage to accomplish its ultimate goal: getting the city of Dover moving forward again.

It marked the first meeting among the city’s councilmen since March 10, when the Council Committee of the Whole met at City Hall. Little did anyone expect at the time that following that meeting, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, all of Dover’s public meetings would be halted throughout March and into April.

The biggest development to come from Monday night’s meeting was city council’s unanimous passage of Emergency Ordinance #2020-06, which allows the city to waive certain charter, code, police and procedure requirements during the COVID-19 state of emergency that was declared by Gov. John Carney on March 12.

The council’s decision gave Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell flexibility to perform her job, especially in emergency situations.

“We had drafted for emergency purposes that we need to make decisions that we don’t have the time to get council’s approval on, and it will also enable the city not to have a meeting each month and bypass the requirement of having a meeting each month per the charter,” Mrs. Mitchell said, of the emergency ordinance, though council appeared confident it will continue to meet via teleconference in the short term.

“This is a resolution for the state of emergency, but it is also gives authority to the city manager to waive (certain) procedures for business continuity if we have something come up that I need to make a decision on and without having to call a meeting and work through FOIA (Freedom of Information act) requirements and the waiting period and the time it takes to do all that.”

Mrs. Mitchell said the city was already in the process of tackling such a problem on Monday, as a sewer system had failed within the city and she was trying to get things lined up in order to get it fixed promptly.

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. had asked Mrs. Mitchell for an example of what the emergency ordinance would accomplish, and she pointed to the sewer problem.

“If we have an emergency repair, like we actually do right now with a sewer maintenance issue, then I have authorized staff to bring in that contractor (Teal Construction) and I would be notifying council of what I’ve done,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “I will tell you there’s no money in the water/sewer budget for this repair, so I’ve told Jason Lyon (city water/wastewater manager) that I’ll probably have to use (other city monetary) reserves.

“I can approve (emergency fixes) without having a meeting, and then just notifying council the actions I’ve taken under this waiver.”

Councilman Sudler said that while he understood the urgency of the situation, “my concern is about the (bidding) process.”

In response, Mrs. Mitchell said, “This (sewage repair) will bypass the bid proposal because we’ve got sewer on the grass now and we’ve got to go in there and fix it. Normally, without emergency, it would be done through bid documents and working through the regular process.

“(In this emergency case) we reach out to the different contractors and we find out who can get the job done quickly for us. It’s just basically what we’ve done when there’s been an emergency situation, so Sharon (Duca, director of public works) has reached out to the contractor, which is Teal Construction, and they’ve agreed they can get this done for us and they’ll get mobilized (Tuesday).”

City Councilman Fred Neil said he has gained enough trust in Mrs. Mitchell’s past decision-making experience that he did not have a problem with giving her emergency authority for the city during the COVID-19 crisis.

“If it was someone else perhaps I would be maybe a little bit leery, but based on what Mrs. Mitchell has done in keeping this council totally informed of the good and the bad that we’re now dealing with, I have to compliment her,” he said. “I think she’s done a phenomenal job.”

As for having city council members continue to meet twice a month, Council President William “Bill” Hare said that with the new teleconferencing technology he doesn’t believe that will be a problem, though it might push back some of the issues that require public hearings. He expects council to meet again virtually on April 27.

“Hopefully, we can continue to have our meetings every two weeks,” President Hare said.

In other council action

City council members also unanimously gave approval to the city’s planning office to publish a five-day comment period for citizens to comment on a proposed budget amendment to the 2019 Community Development Block Grant Action Plan with a $163,211 allocation authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

Council followed staff’s recommended approval of the proposed budget amendment for Fiscal Year 2019.

The city is planning to partner with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Division (DHSS) to administer the CARES Act funding to prevent, prepare and respond to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The funds will be used for providing hotel/motel vouchers for homeless families and individuals, as well as providing essential services to people experiencing homelessness including childcare, education services, outreach, employment assistance, outpatient health services, legal services, mental health services, substance abuse treatment services and transportation. The funds will also be used to prevent individuals from becoming homeless and rapidly rehouse homeless individuals by paying up to three month’s rent.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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