Following an initial declaration last week, the city of Sherman has extended its public health disaster declaration indefinitely. The City Council voted unanimously Monday in a special meeting to extend the declaration and the emergency powers it gives City Manager Robby Hefton.
Under this declaration, the city will be able to apply for emergency and disaster funding to offset some of the economic costs from the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic, officials said. In addition to this, the declaration offers the city manager the power to continue city business during the emergency in decisions that normally would go to the council.
“The primary thing is that it extends the declaration that was made by the mayor last Monday,” Hefton said. “In the midst of that, though it does a few other things that are typical in times of emergencies that have been declared.”
Mayor David Plyler initially declared the local disaster last Monday, but the declaration only lasts for a week. In order to extend the declaration, the city council is required to vote in favor.
Among the powers that Hefton is trusted with during this emergency is the power to execute contracts and legal documents, regardless of dollar amount, that are necessary for the city to continue to conduct business.
“From a practical standpoint, I can’t think of anything that I would have planned right now to do under this provision,” Hefton said. “ But it does permit me to do that, number one.
“And number two, to the extent that I make those contracts or agreements, or purchases there is a required update to the council weekly, on anything that would normally come to the council that is done under that authority.“
Hefton will also be able to extend the time frame for appeals, including those from the Planning and Zoning Commission. Hefton will also be able to cancel any meetings from boards or commissions.
This provision could prove important to the city, as a recent P&Z decision is being questioned and appealed to the city council. Developers for a new 400-lot manufactured home development plan to appeal a denial related to the project from earlier this year.
The appeal was originally slated to be a part of the scheduled April 6 meeting, but the city council has elected to cancel the meeting as a precaution during the health crisis.
Under the declaration, Plyler has the power to cancel additional meetings during both April and May. All non-essential municipal court proceedings are also postponed until further notice.
“We will just play that by ear,” Hefton said regarding the meetings. “We will let you know how we want to proceed with that in the days to come.”
Council Member Shawn Teamann questioned why there were provisions in the ordinance that set enforcement and penalties. Teamann said that under his understanding, there was nothing to enforce under the ordinance.
Hefton said there may be additional decisions and closure that may be declared by the city in the coming days as the emergency progresses. By passing these regulations, the city would be able to quickly enforce any new rules.
As an example, Hefton said Sherman Police were called to a business that was holding a gathering over the weekend. While Sherman does not have a shelter in place order, large gatherings are currently banned by both state and federal mandates.
“We’ve closed a few of our facilities, for instance,” Hefton said. “There might be future requirements that we put out that close businesses of some sort. We haven’t done that and the state hasn’t done that technically, nor the federal government. ... To the extend that we would require things of businesses or individuals, we would have the ability to go out and enforce that.”
The city did not cite the business for the violation, but said it could for future violations.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.