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Mayor Jeff Lunde speaks on the phone March 23 during the city’s first telephone-based city council meeting following the COVID-19 outbreak. In the foreground is Fire Chief John Cunningham. Lunde and the City Council declared a state of local emergency in the city during the meeting.

In a special meeting, Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde, backed by the City Council, declared a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak at its March 23 meeting.

The meeting was the first the council has hosted by phone following the outbreak and the Center for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines. While Lunde, City Manager Jay Stroebel, and Fire Chief and Emergency Manager John Cunningham sat spread out in the council chambers, the rest of the council attended the meeting via telephone.

The move brought little comment from the council, which also authorized the mayor and city manager the ability to cancel city board, commission and committee meetings until the pandemic is declared over.

“Whereas, Minnesota Statutes Section 12.29 authorizes the Mayor to declare the existence of the emergency, to invoke necessary portions of the Emergency Operations Plans and the Pandemic Response Plan, and to authorize aid and services in accordance with interjurisdictional agreements … as the Mayor of the City of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, I declare that a Local Emergency exists effective at 6:00 p.m. on March 16, 2020 in the City of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota,” the declaration reads.

“This declaration of a local emergency will invoke the City’s Emergency Operations Plans and the Pandemic Response Plan,” the declaration continues. “The portions that are necessary for response to and recovery from the emergency are authorized, including but not limited to all appropriate community containment and mitigation strategies. To the extent normal state laws and city policies and procedures impede an efficient response or compliance with federal and state directives and recommendations, the City Manager, Emergency Manager, and their designees are authorized to suspend compliance with those laws, policies, and procedures and to take those actions necessary to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.”

That is, in enacting a local emergency, contracts and agreements related to the emergency that would normally be subject to competitive bidding requirements are not necessarily subject to the same standards. “City staff is authorized to enter into agreements and contracts necessary for the procurement of materials, equipment, and services required to respond to the local emergency,” the resolution reads. City staff are “authorized to execute any necessary agreements, contracts, and related documents regarding the local emergency necessary to implement corrective action relative to the local emergency to protect the health, safety and welfare of the city and the community.”

The declaration of emergency will be in effect until further action is taken by the city council.

While the mayor and city manager have the ability to cancel board and committee meetings, meetings can potentially be hosted by phone. However, such a meeting is still subject to the state’s open meeting laws and requirements. Meeting those legal requirements while hosting a phone meeting has not proved to be quick or simple, so the city plans to put most of the board and commission meetings on hold as the city continues to navigate these issues and simplify the process, Stroebel said. That said, Planning Commission meetings may be hosted over the phone as needed to move land development projects forward in a timely matter, Lunde said.

The ability to cancel meetings is not a permanent one and would be rescinded when the emergency declaration is lifted, according to City Attorney Jim Thompson.

The council was unanimous in its support for both proposals.

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