Council passes COVID-19 state of emergency

Benny Westcott

Proclamation cites concerns related

to mental health

By Benny Westcott

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 7, voted unanimously to approve Resolution No. 22, proclaiming a “state of emergency” regarding the COVID-19 emergency response.

The proclamation attributed “social distancing and prolonged isolation, combined with unemployment and other stressors,” to “increased cases of domestic abuse calls to the Sweet Home Police Department by 24% in 2020.” It also noted that the department recorded a 131% increase in mental-health calls in 2020 over 2019 and is on track for a 288% increase in mental health calls for 2021 over 2019.

After the resolution passed, Mayor Greg Mahler said, “I do hereby proclaim, with city council authorization, a ‘state of emergency’ in the City of Sweet Home; and that during the existence of said emergency, the powers, functions, and duties of the Sweet Home emergency program manager [currently City Manager Ray Towry] and the emergency organization of this city shall be those prescribed by state law and by ordinances and resolutions of this city. Said ‘state of emergency’ shall exist for a period of time during which conditions resulting from the COVID-19 executive orders exist which have given rise to the proclamation. The local emergency shall continue until terminated by the mayor of the city of Sweet Home.”

While noting that the “novel coronavirus [COVID-19] is a respiratory disease that may result in serious illness or death and is easily transmissible,” and that “on March 8, 2020, Governor Kate Brown declared that a state of emergency exists in all counties in the state of Oregon due to the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and implemented emergency orders in response to combat the pandemic,” the proclamation stated that “social distancing and prolonged isolation are proven to create a number of mental-health issues such as anxiety and depression, sometimes pushing individuals toward suicide” and “the compounding and ever changing mandates have added to the stress of individuals within our state.”

The resolution continued: “The state of Oregon owes a duty to its constituents to address the mental-health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic mandates with increased funding and resources for mental health care throughout the state of Oregon, especially for rural Oregonians,” and “the state of Oregon owes a duty to its constituents to address the rise in criminal activity correlating with the COVID-19 pandemic mandates through increased funding and resources directly to local jurisdictions to help recruit, hire, and train a more qualified police force, especially for rural Oregon communities,” and “the state of Oregon should look to the future and fully fund an initiative for the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) to train our future police officers to better equip them to deal with mental health issues.”

Addressing the resolution’s legality, the proclamation stated that “The city of Sweet Home has the authority granted under ORS Chapter 401 and Sweet Home Municipal Code chapter 2.52 that provide direction to the city, its officials, and others in the event of an emergency that exists within the city,” and “Sweet Home Municipal Code section 2.52.030 designates the city manager as the city of Sweet Home emergency program manager,” and “Sweet Home Municipal Code section 2.52.040 (A) empowers the emergency program manager to request the Sweet Home City Council to proclaim the existence of a ‘state of emergency’ for the city of Sweet Home” and that “existing conditions related to the COVID-19 emergency orders warrant the proclamation of emergency, as defined by Sweet Home Municipal Code section 2.52.020.

“The city requires additional assistance, and a formal declaration of emergency allows additional resources to flow to the city in a timely fashion.”

The city also took a stance on mask and vaccine mandates in the resolution, which stated that “the city of Sweet Home recognizes individual choice related to masks and vaccines. We believe that citizens are fully capable of making private, individual healthcare and lifestyle decisions themselves.

“The city council believes if a vaccination mandate is imposed by the governor that it will decimate the number of emergency services employees, and especially volunteer firefighters, negatively impacting our community.”

The council will next convene for a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, at Sweet Home City Hall.