Council votes to postpone discussion on ending Lincoln mayor’s emergency powers

The Lincoln City Council was split Monday on whether to table a discussion about ending Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird's emergency powers. 
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Lincoln City Council was split Monday on whether to table a discussion about ending Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird’s emergency powers.

Gaylor Baird declared a state of emergency in March related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The declaration was approved the same day by the City Council, which also approved an extension beyond the 72-hours allowed by city code.

Councilman Bennie Shobe said he thinks there’s confusion among Lincoln residents about what the emergency declaration allows the mayor to do.

“We tend to see people in our community confusing the power of the DHM and the federal funding,” he said. “I was hoping for a public hearing so we could teach the public the difference. The emergency declaration doesn’t affect the DHM and most people don’t understand that.”

According to city code, whenever a state of emergency has been declared, the mayor is authorized to take the following specified measures throughout the city:

  1. Prohibit or limit the number of persons who may gather or congregate upon public streets, alleys, or public places, or any outdoor place within the area affected by the emergency declaration;
  2. Establish a curfew limiting the hours when persons may go upon or travel the public streets;
  3. Require the closing of cocktail lounges, taverns, and bars and prohibit the sale or service of alcoholic beverages in any hotel, restaurant, club, or other establishment, or to require the closing of all other business establishments;
  4. Prohibit or restrict the sale of gasoline or other inflammable liquids;
  5. Prohibit the sale, carrying, or possession on the public streets or public sidewalks or in any public park or square of weapons including but not limited to firearms, bows and arrows, air rifles, slingshots, knives, razors, or missiles of any kind;
  6. To take all other such measures as are necessary to preserve the health, safety, and property of the citizens of this community.

Council members said the power to issue directed health measures lies with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department, not Gaylor Baird.

Councilwoman Jayne Raybould noted the United States set a record last week for COVID-19 deaths and questioned why anyone would want to end the declaration while cases loads continue to rise.

“My very first thought was, ‘What alternative universe could you possibly be living in?,'” she said.

Others pointed to the fiscal impacts of ending the emergency status, which makes Lincoln eligible for millions of dollars in state and federal funding.

Councilwoman Sandra Washington said some of those millions have been used to keep residents in their homes, provide childcare services to health care workers and buy protective equipment for first responders.

“I can’t imagine putting us in a place where we don’t have those dollars,” she said.

Councilman Roy Christensen said not having a public hearing about the issue would show a lack of transparency and accountability. He also said there should be periodic reviews of how the emergency power is being used.

But Councilwoman Tammy Ward fired back, saying the vote to move the resolution to pending status wouldn’t take away the option of a public debate.
“Please don’t spread misinformation, there’s enough of that going on in the world,” she said.
Ultimately, Ward was joined by Raybould, Washington and Councilman James Michael Bowers in voting to postpone talks on the resolution. Christensen, Shobe and Councilman Richard Meginnis voted not to.
No date for when the discussion would resume was given.


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