2020 | Coronavirus

Rockville officials want to amend emergency powers they gave city manager

Now considering clearer definition of limits

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Rockville City Council members were split on March 23, when they voted to give the city manager the ability to suspend laws during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the council wants to amend — or rescind — the ordinance to add a date that the city manager’s additional authority would end. If the council rescinds the law, it might vote on an entirely new one.

The newly approved law allows City Manager Rob DiSpirito to suspend certain laws “to the extent necessary to ensure the City government continues to function in a manner consistent with best practices identified by health authorities and the executive orders” of Gov. Larry Hogan during the public health emergency in the state.

Now, the council is considering putting a deadline on the ordinance to further define its limit. It might add a deadline of a few months in case the public health emergency lasts longer for financial reasons instead of public health concerns.

Debra Daniel, Rockville’s city attorney, previously gave the council examples of when DiSpirito might need to make an emergency decision. They included suspending the requirement for the financial advisory board to meet at City Hall and allowing bids to be submitted electronically instead of in a sealed envelope.

Another example that Newton provided was a resident’s question of whether recreational vehicles could be to quarantine infected family members.

The mayor and council voted 3-2 on March 23 to grant emergency powers to the city manager. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council Members Monique Ashton and Mark Pierzchala voting to pass it. They felt the legislation was reasonable and would let DiSpirito make decisions in case of an emergency related to the public health crisis

Council members Beryl Feinberg and David Myles voted against the law because they felt the city manager did not need additional powers to respond to public health needs. They also expressed concern over not having any involvement in certain decisions.

On Monday, council members discussed some amended language that Pierzchala proposed, including adding a deadline of six months or sooner if the state of emergency ends. They proposed clarifying what circumstances apply.

Pierzchala proposed the changes to try to get a consensus on the council.

Myles suggested putting off a decision, so the council could digest the proposed amendments. The council agreed it would discuss potential amendments at its April 13 meeting.

Ashton said she would prefer a deadline of three months for the emergency powers, with the option to extend.

“The governor could keep a longer emergency for financial reasons versus public health reasons,” she said.

A definite deadline would the let council see if it was satisfied with how the law was used and evaluate whether to extend it.

Daniel said she would draft three different ordinances for the council to consider on April 13: one to rescind the initial ordinance, one to amend it and one to supersede it. At least four voters are needed to approve an amendment.

The majority of the language in the two draft ordinances that would amend and supersede the initial law would be similar. The council could decide what deadline it would like, Daniel said.

Feinberg asked if the council could reconsider the ordinance instead of making an amendment.
Daniel said reconsiderations are usually reserved for regulatory matters instead of legislative issues.

“It’s not really a reconsideration. You can rescind or amend it,” Daniel said. “It’s still an ordinance that you’re adopting to rescind a prior ordinance. Once an ordinance is adopted, it’s adopted.”

Even if the ordinance were rescinded, it would still be recorded as a previous law and wouldn’t “disappear,” she said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.