City council continues to meet virtually, despite supreme court ruling

By Ralph Echtinaw

The St. Louis City Council continues to meet via conference call despite a 4-3 state Supreme Court ruling last Friday that said the 1946 Emergency Powers Act that Gov. Whitmer used to justify her China virus executive orders is unconstitutional.

The court also ruled unanimously that the governor “did not have authority after April 30, 2020, to issue or renew any executive orders related to the COVID19 pandemic” under the 1976 Emergency Management Act. 

April 30 was the date when Whitmer’s authority under the act expired, and the legislature did not agree to an extension.

Executive Order 2020-2 gave public bodies the option of meeting virtually via teleconference or conference call, and St. Louis City Council has met that way for months. (The St. Louis school board has met via the Zoom teleconference application.)

More recently, all city council members have phoned in to the meeting while City Manager Kurt Giles, Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. and other administrators have attended the same meetings in the council chamber at city hall.

The public has the option to attend in person or phone in, but few have done either.

“There is a real question over when these (supreme court) rulings take effect,” said Matt Bach of the Michigan Municipal League via email. “The usual time in which a Supreme Court order goes into effect is 21 days after the order is issued. We believe that is the most reliable date. We do note that Attorney General Dana Nessel has stopped enforcing the executive orders. We also note that the governor has asked the court for a ruling on that issue.”

State Rep. Graham Filler, who represents the southern two-thirds of Gratiot County, said “the 21-day wait is not legally a thing; the governor was incorrect. Her executive orders will be knocked down next week by a federal judge.”

State Rep. Jim Lower, who represents St. Louis and Alma, suggested that city councilmen “could wear masks and meet in person. Many people attend jobs in person.”

Meanwhile, state legislators are working on two bills (SB 1108 and HB 6207) that would amend the Open Meeting Act to allow virtual meetings to take place without an executive order. The changes would allow for remote participation during a statewide or local declared state of emergency, or for a public body member with a medical condition. These bills also would allow in-person meetings and a combination of virtual and in-person arrangements.

“We are talking as a caucus about the next steps for the remote meetings bills,” Filler said via email. “We will see if there is support and go from there.”

Asked why city council continues to meet virtually, City Manager Kurt Giles said via email: “We’ve received  notification from our local health department of the emergency order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services along with confirmation that remote meetings remain legal under Executive Directive 2020-02.”

However, Executive Order 2020-2 no longer appears on the governor’s list of executive orders.

Leppien Park pavilion gets electricity

Councilmen approved a $7,690 contract with Worthy Electric of St. Louis to wire the Leppien Park pavilion with 16 receptacles and three lights.

C&R Electric also bid on the job ($11,350).

The electrification was recommended by the city’s Parks and Recreation board to accommodate folks who use the pavilion with electrical outlets for heating dishes and overhead lighting. 

DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott is confident that Worthy will do a good job. “Worthy has done great work for us for years,” he said during the teleconference meeting.

Abbott said the work will be completed no later than next spring.

Blow, big man, blow

Council approved the $5,000 purchase of a blower from Bader & Sons that attaches to the back of the DPW’s John Deere tractor and runs off the tractor’s power take off.

“The reason for the request is dues to the situation of not being able to obtain temporary labor as we have relied on for many years,” Abbott wrote in a memo to Giles. “With the Covid-19 situation creating unemployment benefits and extensions the temp agencies are short on people that wish to work. This puts DPW in position of not being able to man the walk behind blowers we need to blow out the leaves at the cemetery and parks.”

“I did get one (temp) in, and it was a sad situation,” Abbott said at the meeting. “He just didn’t want to do anything.”

The new blower works at “lightning speed compared to what we’ve been doing,” Abbott added. “I look at it as being a real labor saver. There’s not an engine or anything to wear out on it. I’m really excited. I think this is going to be a real boon for us.”

In years past Abbott has had six guys on walk-behind blowers clearing leaves at cemetery and two guys on backpack blowers. Now it will be the big blower and two backpack blowers. Abbott said he will keep the three newest backpack blowers and put the rest up for auction.

The new blower is expected to pay for itself in labor savings over the next two years.

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