Emergency declaration remains in place
At a Committee of the Whole meeting on August 26 that was held just prior to the regular meeting, the Stevensville Town Council decided it needed more information before attempting to create a covid recovery plan. The mayor had told the council that he was unwilling to rescind the emergency declaration that he put in place last year unless the council could develop a covid recovery plan.
Mayor Brandon Dewey said the declaration was originally put into place in order for Stevensville to be eligible for FEMA disaster funding. Council member Jaime Devlin asked how federal funding is reallocated into the Stevensville budget. Dewey gave an overview of the various federal funding that became available in response to the pandemic, but did not address how that funding is incorporated into the approved budget. Dewey reiterated that the declaration that remains in place allows Stevensville to remain eligible for any future funding that may become available.
Devlin said she could not find any other municipality in Montana that was currently under a covid emergency declaration. She wondered if funding eligibility was enough of a reason to keep the declaration in place. Dewey responded that the council needed to have a covid recovery plan in place before he would rescind the declaration.
Dewey provided the council with the Governor’s Reopening Plan that was implemented under the former governor. Council member Paul Ludington said he thought the Town was currently in Phase 3 of that plan, which included all public meetings being held in person with awareness of social distancing and no attendance limit.
Devlin said she didn’t think there was a solid plan available that made sense.
Dewey said that, due to the spread of the delta variant and the rise in case counts, he was hesitant to rescind the declaration without some other plan in place.
Ludington said that he doesn’t believe the mayor is going to supercede any of the authority of the council unless it becomes absolutely necessary.
He said that he only has the best interests of the community at heart, and he believes that’s true of the other members of the council. “If we had something else in mind it would have happened already… I’m only interested in what’s best for the community… I would like to stake my reputation on the fact that there isn’t some usurping of power going on, or something that’s an end run around anything to make sure that something happens according to a plan or an agenda.”
Devlin said that there is only limited information available from the county. Allen said they needed to look at the number of people vaccinated, the transmission rate and the number of active cases.
In public comment, Jim Crews read portions of the declaration and said there was no authorization in Title 10 of Montana Code Annotated for the powers that Dewey had given himself in the declaration. Crews questioned whether the declaration had been reviewed by legal counsel, as Dewey had previously stated. He wondered where a copy of any such review could be found. Crews said the council cannot give power to the mayor that is not allowed by the Montana Constitution.
The consensus of the council was that it didn’t have enough information to move forward on a reopening plan. Dewey said he would provide additional documentation for the council.