Mayor declares state of emergency
Action gives mayor powers to act without direct council approval
Mayor Mike Wellner gained sweeping new powers Tuesday night following city council ratification of a proclamation declaring a local state of emergency.
State law allows local government to issue a State of emergency when it is “necessary and expedient for the health, safety, welfare and good order of the city.” The action was taken in light of ever-increasing restrictions being imposed as the state and country deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Under the state of emergency, Wellner will have the power to:
_ Authorize emergency purchases of good and materials.
_ Authorize emergency purchase of services
_ Authorize intergovernmental agreements for necessary services
_ Authorize emergency costs to the labor force
_ Allow the city to categorize emergency expenses for possible future federal or state reimbursement.
The declaration came just hours after Gov. Tony Evers further tightened the statewide state of emergency declared on March 13 to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people at one time. Wellner expressed concern that further restrictions may limit when or how often the full city council will be able to meet.
“We don’t know what will be next,” Wellner said. “We don’t want to panic, but we want to be prepared.” Wellner noted that a week ago, the state government officials were being criticized for overreacting to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Today the criticism is that we were under reacting,” Wellner said. He gave the example of the city of Medford police department having three officers, including the new chief of police, under preventative quarantine due to travel.
“This thing has snowballed to where no one ever thought it would be,” Wellner said.
Wellner said he has been in almost daily contact with county public health director Patty Krug as well as with legal counsel and city department heads. In addition they have been in consultation with the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and about the options the city has to respond to the crisis while still maintaining the necessary transparency in government and being answerable to residents.
“It is a new time,” Wellner said.
City attorney Courtney Graff said that while the mayor will be able to exercise additional powers, it does not excuse the city from having to obey the open meetings laws or leave aldermen in the dark about decisions. City coordinator John Fales said as actions are taken, there will be memos authored and published as well as being posted in the normal posting locations at the courthouse, city hall and the library. Because the library is closed postings will be done on the outside door.
The intent, said Wellner is to make sure the city is able to continue to offer services.
Graff noted the city is on the leading edge of being proactive in addressing the potential for disruption due to COVID-19. “Medford is very cutting edge,” she said.
Wellner said that he anticipated Tuesday’s council meeting to be the last one for a while unless there was something pressing or timely that needed council action. “I won’t call a meeting unless the deadline says we have to,” Wellner said.
Future meetings may include a combination of conference calls and in-person attendance. One of the challenges of holding the meetings is that they must still be open to the public which would exceed the 10-person gathering rules. A suggestion was to allow public access to the meeting through a conference call or other technological aid.
Alderman Mike Bub said he supported the declaration as being the right thing for the city to do, but he noted that meetings of governmental bodies are exempt under the governor’s gathering limits. “We could meet if we had to,” Bub said.
Wellner said the concern with doing that is with sending an inconsistent message to residents on one hand telling people they can not gather in groups and then holding large meetings. “It would be ‘do as I say, not as I do,’” Wellner said.
Wellner said he still held out hope that despite being granted these additional powers, he will not have to use them and that the crisis will be quickly resolved. “Hopefully we won’t need any of this,” Wellner said. “We don’t want to panic people, we want to be prepared.”
“This allows us to keep pushing forward and keep being viable,” Fales said.
Council ratified the declaration of a state of emergency on a unanimous vote.
“We are in different times than any of us has ever gone through,” Wellner said.
In a related matter, aldermen discussed the status of the upcoming election. As of right now, the state will be holding the spring general election and presidential preference primary election on April 7 with in-person balloting at city hall. The city is encouraging people to either vote by absentee ballot or take advantage of so-called early voting at city hall to avoid large crowds on election day.
Fales also outlined other steps the city is encouraging residents to follow such as reducing face-to-face meetings and to seek alternative methods to paying utility bills rather than paying them in-person at city hall. “We will be making daily changes,” Fales said.
“We want to be over the top rather than being chastised for not doing enough,” he said.
“It is one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t situations,” Wellner said.
In other action related to the COVID-19 crisis, aldermen approved the creation of a temporary assistant chief position. With three officers out on quarantine, there is concern about being able to provide adequate protection. The position would allow Bryan Carey to postpone his retirement for up to three months to assist the city in getting through this period.
Carey was set to retire on March 31. The police and fire commission will have to formally approve appointing Carey to the position. He would continue to receive his current salary and benefits package with funding to come from city undesignated reserve funds.
The best case scenario Carey said is that the officers in quarantine do not show symptoms and will be able to return to work on March 30, 31, and April 5.
Alderman Laura Holmes questioned if the officers will be tested. Fales responded that the city checked into it with health officials, and unless the officers begin to show symptoms they will not be tested.
Alderman Dave Roiger questioned if the officers were still being paid for the quarantine period. Fales said they were being paid, but that on advice of the city’s labor attorney they are using their available sick leave. It was noted that with bills moving through the state and federal government that may change.
In other business, aldermen:
_ Approved hiring AdvanIT of Merrill to provide information technology support to the city. Under terms of the contract, AdvanIT will be paid $120 per hour for services other than software development, and $175 per hour for software development with at least 48 hours notice. The rate will increase by 150% if it is less than 48 hours notice travel time will be billed at 50% rate. Services provided remotely will be billed on 15-minute increments with all other services billed in 30-minute increments with a one-hour minimum.
_ Approved hiring Staab Construction Corporation, of Marshfield, in the amount of $1,833,200 to do upgrades at wastewater solids at the city’s treatment plant. The amount was changed from the recommendation made last week as an additional cost saving was discovered with the sharing of an electrician between this and another wastewater project. While Huotari Construction is the low bidder for the industrial yard cake storage facility for the treatment plant, Fales asked the council to hold off on approving the contract because the final prices had not been set as the city continues to work with the Wisconsin Department of Administration to reduce costs of the project.
_ Approved hiring Francis Melvin for the reconstruction of Perkins Street from 150 feet from the Hwy 13 intersection to near the Fourth Street intersection at a cost of $617,211. This is below the $652,000 estimated for the project by engineers. Aldermen also recommended hiring Switlick and Sons for water main bursting on South Whelen Ave. at a cost of $241,804, engineers estimated the water main bursting project at about $266,000. There were six bidders on the construction project and four for the watemain project.
_ Approved purchase of a new police truck from Medford Motors. The truck will replace an existing 2012 Dodge truck used as an unmarked squad by the department. The vehicle cost is $23,259 and it will be ordered this week with delivery expected sometime in late spring or summer. Due to the response to the COVID-19 crisis the city was told they could expect to see delays in the delivery of vehicles.
_ Approved the materials and labor bids for the 2020 construction season. These are bid out annually with the city accepting the low bid amounts.
_ Approved hiring Jensen & Son Asphalt for $6,626.72 to do the street striping.
_ Approved hiring American Asphalt for $45,144 to repave Wisconsin Ave. from Hwy 64 to Spruce St. The company was the only bidder for the work. Fales said this was normal for projects that did not include any underground work.
_ Approved hiring Elk River Appraisal to do a city-wide revaluation in 2021 at a cost of $22,000. Under state law, the city’s assessed property values must be within 10% of the equalized “fair market” value. The city was at 88% this year and must bring it in compliance. It was noted that the last city-wide revaluation was done in 2004 with a commercial-only revaluation in 2016. The revaluation would be completed in time for the board of review to be done in Oct. 2021.
_ Tabled action on granting a parade permit to the Taylor County Autism Support group for the Walk for Autism Awareness on April 20 over concerns the COVID-19 crisis would not be resolved at that point.