Menifee City Council declares an emergency with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic

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The Menifee City Council began its March 18 regular meeting by passing a declaration of an emergency ordinance outlining the ways the city government will be functioning during the novel coronavirus crisis raging across the world.

The “threatened emergency declaration” passed by the councils 4-0 vote in the absence of District 1 Councilmember Greg August is designed to follow the county, state and federal proclamations on how to best contain the spread of the virus and resulting COVID-19 disease in the local community.

The ordinance is a precursor to a subsequent “emergency ordinance” the city council may be called upon to pass in the event of the first reported case of COVID-19 in the city, according to Menifee city attorney Jeff Melching and city manager Armando Villa.

The ordinance passed by the council was previously allowed in the city Emergency Services Chapter 1.10 in the Menifee city code. The ordinance titled delegates to the city manager certain authorities above his regular responsibilities. Those responsibilities now allow Villa, as city manager, to coordinate the internal activities of the city staff and appoints him as the “director of disaster services,” with the authority to coordinate with other private and public agencies. It also gives him the authority “to release rules and regulations that are necessary to protect the public health and safety,” Melching said.

The attorney said that Villa can now make rules about who can and cannot come into city hall, or close city hall, that has since been done. He can also allow him to obtain supplies and equipment needed to overcome the emergency and can command the city employees as emergency service providers.

Melching said the ordinance allows the city council to convey other authorities to the city manager to exercise “during the time of crisis.” The city, under the ordinance, now allows the council to ask for outside financial help from the state and federal government up a year from March 18 and the city to create a fund to help with the city’s economic development slowed by the crisis. That would include the city obtaining and purchasing needed services from the local business community.

The ordinance also will allow Villa to use the officers now training and organizing the first Menifee Police Department to be called up before the official July 1 opening of the department to help the current city contracted Sheriff’s Department deputies in their local law enforcement activities during the crisis.

The ordinance will also have the current ongoing commission meetings to stop meetings during the crisis, but the council said the next planning commission meeting will be called. The council, if wishing to continue the meeting, may do so using the electronic media to maintain the recommended “social distancing.”

The ordinance also will allow the city manager to, without the council’s approval, to sign needed and ongoing city services and equipment contracts under $100,000 through the time of the crisis. Any contracts over that amount would have to be forwarded to the council for their approval, or the council may refer the authority back to the manager for final signature. Those contracts can be legally signed electronically during the time of crisis.

It also provides the council convene only once a month not the two as it is now, unless it is done electronically with means for the public to participate.

District 3 Councilmember Lisa Sobek suggested the residents, during the crisis, sign up to receive the latest city information on their cell phones and computers to keep apprised of the rapidly changing novel coronavirus pandemic issues facing the city and the nation. Mayor Bill Zimmerman said he wanted residents to know they could call the city’s community development team at (951) 672-9673 anytime to find out what the city is doing to help during the crisis and any events canceled or continuing in the city.

In other business, the council approved an agreement with Roy Allen Seal Inc. for $944,497.57 to slurry seal and resurface deteriorating roads in the eastern portion of the city and in the Quail Valley area amongst other ongoing projects.

Discussion on the proposed Youth Summit and Audie Murphy Days, the Menifee Initiative consideration and citywide design guidelines were rescheduled to a later meeting.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.