Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan acquired broad new powers Thursday as the City Council approved an emergency declaration designed to help address the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Under the temporary emergency proclamation, the mayor will be able to bypass regulations and steps usually required for spending, contracting, borrowing and temporary hiring. She’ll also be able to open facilities without the permits and reviews usually required.
Before the council’s vote Thursday, Durkan announced she would use her emergency powers in the coming weeks to add capacity to shelter up to 100 more homeless people at three sites.
The council made some minor changes to the mayor’s Tuesday proclamation and issued several requests in an accompanying resolution in order to highlight certain priorities.
The council’s resolution asks Durkan to spend emergency money on hand-washing stations, hygiene services such as mobile bathrooms for homeless people, programs that help low-income people access coronavirus testing and programs that update non-English speakers about the outbreak.
It also asks Durkan to let city employees and contractors work from home as much as practicable. Seattle’s human-resources director emailed the city’s employees Thursday encouraging them to telecommute.
The resolution asks Durkan to consider analyzing the implications of using her emergency powers for race and social justice and for people experiencing homelessness, and it asks her to identify actions the city could take to encourage safe conditions and paid sick leave for gig-economy workers.
Seattle law says Durkan could, during the city’s emergency, have the authority to close streets and businesses, cancel events, order curfews and impose price controls. The mayor didn’t reference those powers in her proclamation as steps she intends to take, spokesman Ernesto Apreza said.
The council’s resolution asks the mayor to consider and make recommendations to the council on issuing an order related to economic and price controls on products such as disinfectants, hand sanitizer, housing and shelter.
It says the council, before approving any “involuntary restrictions on civil liberties,” such as curfews, will consider whether the order in question is “consistent with evidence-based public health practices.” And the resolution asks Durkan to provide a weekly report to the council on emergency spending, contracts, hiring and legal actions.
“For the last two months, city departments and the mayor’s office have been focused on preparing to respond to and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Apreza said in a statement. “The mayor has made COVID-19 response a priority and looks forward to council’s continued support and partnership during this public health emergency.”
Before voting, the council heard about steps that various Seattle departments are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Council members wanted to know how many hygiene kits have been distributed to people in unauthorized encampments by the city’s homeless Navigation Team and about details of the city’s need for cleaning supplies.
Councilmember Tammy Morales noted that the mayor’s emergency powers can be terminated by a two-thirds vote of the council.