Lincoln City Councilman Roy Christensen wants the city to end its emergency declaration and pull back the special authority it extended 10 months ago to Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird to deal with the pandemic.
The council should reassert itself in the city's emergency decision-making process now that the pandemic has reached the vaccine stage, he said.
"If the mayor wants to continue imposing mandates or restrictions, she should ask the City Council for the authority to do so," Christensen said. "I will listen to any such request and decide whether such measures are warranted."
Gaylor Baird declared the pandemic an emergency March 16, four days before the city confirmed its first coronavirus case. Her decision, which the City Council ratified, followed emergency declarations by both the state and federal governments. Its aim was to make available potential federal and state reimbursement for crisis-related city expenses and to access the city's emergency reserve funds if necessary, officials said.
Christensen's resolution will be formally introduced at Monday's council meeting and is scheduled for a public hearing and a vote Jan. 25. The declaration would end Jan. 31 if passed.
The resolution likely will meet skepticism from Christensen's fellow council members, many of whom have supported the handling of the local response by Gaylor Baird and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
Mayoral Chief of Staff Jennifer Brinkman said ending the emergency wouldn't change the way pandemic restrictions are decided but could hamstring the city's ability to get federal and state disaster aid.
"This (resolution) doesn’t accomplish what the councilman said is his objective," Brinkman said. "In reality, the mayor has not exercised emergency powers."
Directed health measures cite the emergency declaration as a reason why coronavirus-related mandates and restrictions are needed, but Health Director Pat Lopez's legal authority to implement coronavirus restrictions, such as the mask mandate or early closing hours for bars, does not stem from the city's emergency declaration, Brinkman said.
Rather, it results from the health director's legal power to control disease outbreaks, Brinkman said.
The Lincoln-Lancaster County health director's special authority to implement stricter rules than the state stems from Lincoln's establishment of a health department in 1889, decades earlier than the statewide creation of county health departments.
Gaylor Baird has not used her emergency powers to enact any restrictions, she said.
By contrast, during the riots last summer, Gaylor Baird implemented a nightly curfew during the city's declared emergency.
The pandemic emergency powers have given the city flexibility to buy and fund emergency needs like when it raced to buy personal protective equipment early in the pandemic knowing other municipalities across the country were doing the same.
Lincoln's declaration has helped it receive $10 million in funds for public safety expenditures, and the city is set to receive another $9 million, Brinkman said.
Lancaster County Emergency Manager Jim Davidsaver said the city's emergency declaration expresses to disaster aid officials at the state and federal level that Lincoln still has conditions constituting a disaster beyond its abilities to handle.
Removing the declaration would bump Lincoln down the list when pandemic resources or funds are distributed
"If you don’t have a disaster declaration, essentially you’re not asking for help from the state or federal level," Davidsaver said.
Christensen said his proposal comes in part to generate public discussion about the emergency powers the council ceded to the mayor in March.
Christensen, a Republican who intends to run for reelection this spring, said he had thought about raising the issue in August but then he opted to wait because of the effort to recall the mayor and some council members. He was not targeted in the effort.
"I did not want anybody to misinterpret my motivations," he said.
The Omaha City Council, which implemented the city's mask mandate after Lincoln, has been more transparent in policymaking and accountable to the public, Christensen said.
"Mostly this has to do with the council being accountable to the public and transparent about what we’re doing as a community," Christensen said. "An open discussion is always useful in a democracy."
But Brinkman disputed his contention that the public hasn't been involved in policymaking, saying people have had the ability to testify before the council about their concerns and nearly every City Council meeting has been preceded by a briefing from Lopez whom council members could question.
Health Department officials have had weekly conversations with affected businesses and other key stakeholders and groups about policies, precautions and pandemic concerns since the virus arrived, she said.
She's confident the Health Department staff can evaluate and respond to the changing dynamics of the pandemic, and she said collaboration remains a key priority for health officials whose response can only prove effective if the community adheres to the guidelines and directives they implement.
"We have to be united in our response to the pandemic in order to be successful," Brinkman said.
PHOTOS: LINCOLN DURING THE PANDEMIC
City Council distancing
Gameday empty Saturday
Thank you Bryan West
No fans allowed
Volleyball social distancing
Boo at the Zoo
Downtown mask art
Marching band competition
East Campus proposed budget cuts
No Football Saturday
UNL in-person class
Farmers Market influencers
Weeping Water vs. Fillmore Central/Exeter-Milligan
First day of middle school
First day of school
Pius X volleyball practice
City Council BLM protest
Rally and hearing
Lancaster County Super Fair
LPS board meeting
Meatpacking workers rally
Lincoln Northeast graduation
Gov. Ricketts address Legislature
Masked Archie the Mammoth
First Jury Trial in Four Months
Lincoln Community Playhouse
The Kindler Hotel
Garth Brooks Drive-In Concert
Urban Air Adventure Park
Gere Branch Library
Music on the Move
Bars Opening in Lincoln
LPS Teachers Retirement
Holmes Lake Manor Horse Visit
Lancaster County Courthouse
Church Social Distancing
Children of Smithfield
Parkview Christian Teacher Appreciation Day
Lincoln Christian 2020 Seniors
Test Nebraska site
Drive-Thru Career Fair
Center for People In Need food distribution
Masks For Truckers
Teacher and Staff Parade
Virtual City Council
Good Friday Music
Masks on a walk
Watch: A timelapse of the mural at Saro Cider
Watch: Hand sanitizer rolls off Innovation Campus assembly line
No fun here
Tower Square sign
WATCH: Celebrating a birthday with a parade
Simpsons in the windows
Drive-thru COVID-19 testing
UNL Beekeeping virtual class
Lincoln Lutheran Online Teaching
Blue for public health
Basketball without fans
Thanksgiving to go
Socially distant Santa
Christmas tree demand
Basketball fans reduced
Legislature First Day
Zoo Bar membership
New high school
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On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.