The Madison City Council has extended unprecedented powers to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Rhodes-Conway declared a state of emergency on March 23, and the City Council passed the resolution on March 31 with 13-6 votes, approving the emergency order.
The emergency order gave Rhodes-Conway the legal authority to amend 24 ordinances, which can potentially add up to $1.1 million this year while also giving her executive authority to make decisions throughout the pandemic.
“Under this Emergency Proclamation, I am authorized to take any necessary action through ordinance amendments or city policies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on City workers, residents of, and businesses within the City of Madison,” the executive order said.
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City Council rejected a proposal from Ald. Rebecca Kemble to amend the language of the order. According to the WSJ, Kemble said this will prevent the public from participating in decision-making and even knowing about decisions being made. The new powers granted to Rhodes-Conway are supposed to last until June 2.
City Attorney Michael May told WSJ that this will allow decisions to be made faster, which will be useful given the influx of requests the City has received asking for immediate relief during the pandemic.
Ald. Grant Foster, who supported the change in language proposed by Kemble, told WSJ that this measure might not be necessary, as certain decisions during the pandemic do not require urgent meetings and can be made in a better way by the council, allowing public input.
Ald. Tag Evers said during times like this, the Mayor and the council need to work together.
“The mayor and the council need to be united, working closely together, strengthening our democratic process and leading our city through this crisis,” Ald. Evers said to WSJ.
Despite these changes, the city council still holds its powers and can hold meetings as scheduled. The mayor now has the power to modify and change ordinances, resolutions, policies, deadlines, penalties and provide relief to local businesses and nonprofits that have been struggling due to the COVID-19.
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Some changes in the emergency order include extending the expiration date of annual city licenses from June 30 to August 31, 2020. The order also allowed curbside pickup from local restaurants. Additionally, the Community Development Authority has the option to suspend the collection of late lease fees from residential and commercial tenants.
“The situation is incredibly fluid,” Rhodes-Conway said at the City Council meeting.”There’s no crystal ball here. We are nowhere near the worst. The worst is yet to come.”