Battle Ground city leaders debate future of COVID-19 emergency declaration

The debate comes as many wonder whether the outbreak still constitutes a state of emergency

BATTLE GROUND — A debate over the future of Battle Ground’s declaration of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic ended in a punt during this week’s city council meeting.

The seven members of the council debated for nearly an hour whether the emergency declaration, issued shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order was put in place, should be rescinded, amended, or left alone.

Battle Ground City Hall. Stock photo by Mike Schultz
Battle Ground City Hall. Stock photo by Mike Schultz

“I see the need to skeletonize it,” said Councilor Brian Munson, referring to eliminating some of the elements of the order. “I mean, we’re already seeing changes across many other states.”

Other councilors felt the order put too much responsibility on City Manager Erin Erdman, rather than on the council, who were elected to lead.

“The seven of us should have to stand, at least every other week, and look at this and go, ‘yeah, maybe not this week,’” said Councilor Philip Johnson. “Or, ‘yeah, maybe we continue.’”

“I don’t understand what Ms. Erdman is doing that Council is not happy with at this point when it comes to dealing with the emergency,” said Councilor Mike Dalesandro. “It’s almost like we’re just trying to find something to talk about in my opinion.”

“I don’t see this as being micromanagement at all,” responded Shauna Walters, the newest member of the council. “I see this as us doing the jobs that we were elected to do. And it is extremely important for us to be able to come back and talk about this as things are changing daily.”

Munson said one of the things that bothers him the most is an order closing the lobby of the Battle Ground Police Department, eliminating a possible safe place for people who are in trouble.

“When they see a declaration that says our lobby is closed down, where can people go?” Munson wondered. “If they’re in a situation, whether it’s abuse, drugs, whatever the case may be, we’re turning them away because our doors are locked.”

Battle Ground City Council holds a virtual meeting via Zoom earlier this month. Photo by Chris Brown
Battle Ground City Council holds a virtual meeting via Zoom earlier this month. Photo by Chris Brown

Erdman responded that even eliminating the declaration of emergency wouldn’t change that situation, since the reopening of government buildings isn’t slated to happen until the third phase of the governor’s four-phase Safe Start plan.

Overturning the declaration, Erdman said, could leave the city unable to seek federal disaster relief funding, and could resume water shutoffs, something that has been postponed during the pandemic. The city has also forgiven late payment fees, and extra charges to pay via credit card online.

“I guess I’m struggling [with the] question of what is in here that is causing heartbreak that we want to see changed,” Erdman prodded at one point. “Because a lot of this stuff, again, is out of our hands.”

Johnson responded that his biggest issue centers around the declaration being in effect “for the duration.”

“I don’t like the term duration,” Johnson said. “I joined up with the service for the duration. And who knew it would be 25 years, six months and four days?”

The other concern was expressed by Mayor Adrian Cortes, who started the conversation about the emergency declaration.

“If we were to remove it, does that say that somehow we’re acknowledging that the event is over?” wondered Cortes.

City Attorney Christine Hayes responded that the council would need to essentially determine “order has been restored to the affected area of the city,” in order to remove the declaration.

Councilor Shane Bowman said that raised concerns for him that removing the declaration could put businesses at risk.

“You know, if we said, ‘well, we don’t have an emergency declaration anymore,’ does that give a false sense for people to say, ‘okay, well, let’s just open everything up,’’’ said Bowman. “but yet they’re still susceptible to the state removing business licenses, those types of things.”

Ultimately, the council agreed to table the motion for now, and bring it up again at their next meeting in June.

“Having a resolution discussion on the council agenda moving forward, I think will give us the flexibility to make those quick pivots if we want to,” Cortes concluded, “without having to amend the whole thing all over again.”