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All emergency responses are local

Joel Greer

Last week Marshalltown activated a level one emergency operation center and on Monday the city council approved a resolution officially recognizing the city was under a civil emergency.

“Every disaster and emergency response is local,” said Jessica Kinser, city administrator during the meeting. “That is up to us, that is what our role is as a city. When a civil emergency is declared the mayor has quite a bit of power and authority and utilizes the city administrator or designee as the director of disaster services.”

Iowa Code puts most of the authority in the hands of a city’s mayor during a civil emergency.

“That allows the mayor to take over the operations of the city,” Kinser said.

Mayor Joel Greer is still going over what powers he has as mayor during this time.

He will not issue a stay at home order until Gov. Kim Reynolds issues one for the state.

“Over the last few days I have daily called the city administrator and asked if it was time to do that, and she talks me off the ledge,” Greer said. “I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m telling people they have to stay home and I won’t until I get the word from the governor, department of health or the city administrator.”

He and other mayors have been figuring out how extensive a mayor’s power is during an emergency on the level of a global pandemic.

“I’ve been trying to post on Twitter and Facebook things about following the steps to isolate, wash your hands and don’t congregate more than 10 people in a place,” Greer said. “I’ve also been encouraging people to get take-out and delivery food to keep our restaurants going.”

If the city needs to issue a stay at home order it will require getting the word out to almost 30,000 people in many different languages to accommodate Marshalltown’s diverse population.

“Not everybody speaks English or Spanish,” Greer said.

Enforcing such an order is another challenge Greer is considering at this time.

“Is it a criminal offense? Is it a civil offense to congregate when you’re not supposed to or out of the house?” Greer said. “This is absolutely new ground for us.”  

The next city council meeting is in about two weeks, but because of the civil emergency Greer would be able to establish a stay at home order without the council’s approval.

Until the order comes Greer is encouraging people to stay at home unless they need to be out and about.

“It has been a challenge to put it mildly,” Greer said.

In a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, the mayor wrote, “I just got word that the governor has said local mayors lack the authority to issue a shelter-in-place order per an attorney general opinion. Stay home except when absolutely necessary. Keep six-foot spacing. Don’t take whole families to the store. Wash hands 30 seconds. And expect that just like we survived the tornado, we will survive the virus.”

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Contact Thomas Nelson at tnelson@timesrepublican.com

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