Muskogee city officials declared a state of emergency as a result of the threat of COVID-19. Muskogee’s City Council passed Resolution No. 2081 during a special emergency meeting Thursday night. The vote was unanimous.
The resolution enabled City Manager Mike Miller to prohibit public gatherings at city-owned properties, suspend purchasing procedures through April 27, and adopt an updated emergency plan. The resolution also declared the city’s encouragement for compliance with Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and State of Oklahoma recommendations and guidelines.
In addition, the resolution empowered municipal employees — primarily police officers — to enact mandatory evacuation, isolation or quarantine policies, and to enter onto private property to do so, if necessary.
“If we have something like a nursing home where you have a group of folks quarantined inside, and you’ve got someone who wants to gain entry but aren’t allowed, the police can help with that,” City Attorney Roy Tucker told the city council.
Tucker stressed that the city was not yet enforcing CDC, WHO, and State of Oklahoma guidelines, but rather encouraging them. Those guidelines range from asking restaurants and bars to close their dining rooms to avoiding public gatherings of more than 10 people.
“We are simply trying to protect the public health, and in so doing are relying on people who know public health,” Tucker said. “...This does not mandate, instead it encourages compliance with guidelines. Those are all voluntary recommendations.”
Tucker said that if it were necessary, the resolution could be amended to enforce those things, but that was a “worst case scenario.”
“If people follow these guidelines, we hope it never gets to that point,” Tucker said. “In our pandemic plan, we work very closely with the county health department. If it turns out we need to make stiffer recommendations, that’s what we’ll do.”
At its most basic level, Tucker said, the resolution was made for its financial implications.
“This includes purchasing necessary PPE (personal protective equipment), and it includes finding additional dollars for public works to pay overtime, as well as any equipment they need to continue doing their work,” Tucker said.
Ward 3 councilor Ivory Vann asked Miller if the city had a plan should “things get really, really bad.”
“That level of authority really lies with the state,” Miller said. “Restricting movement, closing private businesses — those are decisions we anticipate coming from the state level or the federal level, or the county health department. When and if that comes about, we have plans to implement if it happens, although again, God forbid it happens.”
The resolution also adopted an updated emergency plan. The plan primarily dealt with updating rosters and addresses, but also includes a provision for an instance in which a councilor is temporarily unavailable.
That provision asks city council members to pick three to seven people who can temporarily serve in councilors’ places, should they be too ill to participate in council meetings.
The provision was initially drafted, Tucker said, to account for city council members’ absences in relation to the Open Meetings Act. That act was recently amended to allow for less strict telephonic conferencing for public bodies’ meetings.
With that in place, Tucker said, the provision was less necessary for the current pandemic, but as the amendment expires in November or at Governor Kevin Stitt’s discretion, the provision could be employed.
“These are for all emergencies, not just COVID-19,” he said.
The resolution followed a report by City Manager Mike Miller, which detailed the city’s responses to COVID-19 so far. These included expanded sick leave for city employees, shutting down public gatherings in city properties, and updating recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and Muskogee County Health Department.
Miller said that right now, the biggest problem was testing.
“The County Health Department — what they described to us today was that the capability of testing is horrible. There have been very few tests in Muskogee and Muskogee County,” Miller said. “We probably do have cases in Muskogee. That’s why I’m glad the mayor has called this emergency meeting.”
City of Muskogee Emergency Management Director Tyler Evans said the city and county emergency management teams had unified to respond to COVID-19.
“There’s unified command between county and city, which enables us to share contacts and resources,” Evans said. “This allows both our departments to serve as a reliable source of information.”
Evans said that no confirmed cases of COVID-19 were present in Muskogee County.
“As of right now we don’t have a positive case,” he said. “This is an ongoing situation that changes by the hour.”
Miller and his staff made a set of recommendations for agenda items on Monday’s regular city council meeting. These included suspending water disconnection for nonpayment and moving the upcoming April 7 municipal election to June 30.
“Our staff’s recommendation is that we don’t cut off water,” Miller said. “We do anticipate that people using water need to pay for that water, but the recommendation is not to cut it off.”
Police Chief Johnny Teehee announced during the meeting Muskogee Police Department has suspended arrests on municipal warrants, and would set court dates for citations for 45 days or more past the issue date.
Municipal Court Judge Toni Bradley-Smith announced multiple changes to the city’s court system via an order she signed Thursday night. Bradley-Smith said dockets for March 23, March 30, and April 6 were suspended. Those dockets were reset for the same days of the week at the same time two weeks later.
Bradley-Smith also prohibited anyone other than court personnel and law enforcement from entering the courtroom. No one will be brought over from the Muskogee County/City Detention Facility unless otherwise ordered, she added.
Bradley-Smith said that the court will not issue warrants for failure to appear until further notice. She authorized the municipal court clerk’s office to take pleas and enter into payment plans as necessary.
“There’s usually 300 people in that courtroom in five days,” Bradley-Smith said.
The city council will have its regular meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m., when they will vote on agenda items including a suspension of nonpayment disconnections for water and moving the election.