West University’s city leadership answers Essentials’ questions about Tuesday’s State of Disaster declaration by Mayor Bob Higley in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The city is maintaining dedicated online resources to inform residents of its emergency actions and offers the chance to sign up for alerts at westutx.org.
- What is the reason behind the disaster declaration?
The reason behind the declaration is an administrative move that allows the City to be less bureaucratic in responding to the present emergency. The City was covered under Harris County’s declaration for funding reimbursement and support. The City’s declaration is more proactive than anything else. The ever changing nature of this event leads to changes in the best way to handle it at the local level.
- In everyday terms, what does it empower city leaders to do?
This declaration allows the City to implement measure to respond to the emergency, such as suspending city ordinances (a good example of this was Gov. Abbott suspending certain provisions of the open meetings act to allow meetings via telephone or videoconferencing during this emergency). The bid requirements for purchases related to the emergency would be suspended. The City could issue a curfew if necessary and a shorter noticing requirement for meetings, etc.
- Please give examples of what would trigger the city to take such measures as quarantines of individuals or buildings or to control the ingress and egress of persons to and from West U.
The City is not the responsible for dealing with issues where a resident tests positive for COVID-19. The responsibility is Harris Health and the State of Texas Department of Health Services. Larger cities who have their health services, such as, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, would be taking part in that issue, but since our health services are provided by the County they are the lead agency for the City. The Health Services are the one that handle monitoring self-quarantined individuals and ensuring compliance. The City staff would not be a part of that because we are not trained in infectious disease, etc.
Regarding the ingress or egress of persons to and from West U – the City could impose a curfew or a shelter in place but that type of response would be based upon direction from the feds, state and county health services.
- What will the City Council be asked to do at its March 23 meeting?
By law, the Mayor has to issue a declaration which is a good for 7 days at which time it expires, unless extended by the elected body. As prime example of this was Tuesday’s extension of the emergency declaration by Houston and Harris County before the 7 days. West U Council will be considering an extension of the declaration to ensure the abilities to take necessary action are available.
- What are the other results of the city issuing this declaration, as relates to the federal and state governments?
As mentioned, West U was covered under Harris County’s declaration in terms of funding reimbursement and support. This declaration allows West U to be less bureaucratic as mentioned above and to implement measures that are specific to a West U response.