Virus Update: Town’s Declaration of Emergency (Updated)

by beth on March 26, 2020

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On Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen voted to approve a Declaration of Emergency for the Town of Southborough. The document explains the Town’s right to take:

ordinary and extraordinary actions for the purposes of emergency management and emergency functions to protect the public

The intent and effect of the declaration was debated by selectmen at their March 19th meeting. Vice Chair Marty Healey was concerned that the document might authorize powers to selectmen and/or Town employees that he didn’t understand.

His main question was, what would the document enable that the Governor’s State of Emergency declaration didn’t already authorize? Other selectmen liked that it summed up authority/relief the Town is granted by the state in emergency situations.

The stated intent was to clarify, not expand the Town’s authority. But Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano wasn’t on the video conference to answer if there could be other unintended consequences. The board agreed to have Healey follow up directly with Cipriano prior to this week’s meeting.

The version approved on Tuesday was based on back and forth between Healey and Cipriano. Selectman Sam Stivers referred to the insertion of a check and balance via selectmen’s consent.

At my request, Town Administrator Mark Purple emailed a copy. It begins with several provisos about the current state of emergency. It includes the following passage:

WHEREAS, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health, in the Town of Southborough, Massachusetts, upon advice from the Town Administrator and other advisors, have determined that the situation poses a present, reasonable and imminent danger to public health, safety, and general welfare of the residents or their property so that it has become necessary for the Town Administrator with the authorization of the Board of Selectmen, with such assistance and staff as he deems necessary, to utilize and coordinate the services, equipment, supplies and facilities of existing departments, offices, and agencies or the community, both locally, regionally, statewide and nationally, and if necessary, including the taking of* ordinary and extraordinary actions for the purposes of emergency management and emergency functions to protect the public;

The document refers to relevant sections of Mass General Law the Town is operating under. It also confirms that the Town’s actions won’t impede with the Federal and State declarations of emergency:

Nothing herein is intended to impede or interfere with the achievement of any and all goal set forth in the President’s Declaration of National Emergency, the Governor’s Declaration of State Emergency including the most recent gubernatorial order COVID-19 Order No. 13.

Click here to view the (unsigned) document.

Updated (3/26/20 11:33 am): I asked Purple if the “or” in the passage I shared above “including the taking or ordinary and extraordinary actions” was a typo. He responded that his document, and therefore the one being signed, showed “for”. So I fixed that above. (It’s still incorrect in the linked pdf.)

Updated (3/26/20 12:46 pm): Sorry, the “for” I referred to was actually “of”.

Updated (3/26/20 1:05 pm): Here is the final signed version of the declaration.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 absolute power? March 26, 2020 at 12:13 PM

Having reviewed the document thoroughly, the main concern of Southborough residents should be with the fact that the declaration is vague and far too open-ended. The “powers” are not defined and there is no time limit to the declaration. What, specifically, are “ordinary and extraordinary actions”?

What are the boundaries?

There are none.

The declaration should provide specific wording for what it is granting, assuming such a declaration is really needed, when we already have Federal and State level emergency declarations.

The declaration provides too much power in too few hands for an unspecified time to be approved by five people – with no consent by the voters of the Town!

This declaration should be shelved unless and/or until there is proof of situations in which existing authority does not provide the ability to address (those situations). Today, there is no defined or stated proof.

The word “overkill” comes to mind. This declaration is wholly unnecessary.

BTW – In the declaration’s sentence, “the taking for” makes no sense, just as “the taking or” made no sense. The wording should be, “the taking of”. It was a typographical error. Look at the locations of the ‘f’ and ‘r’ keys on the QWERTY keyboard.

You’re welcome.

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2 beth March 26, 2020 at 12:45 PM

Yikes. Sorry – I messed that up. It was of, not for.

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3 beth March 26, 2020 at 12:48 PM

My understanding – and I’m no lawyer to confirm this – is that the document doesn’t give the Town more authority than it is already granted by the Governor’s state of emergency. It simply centralizes the information in one document with references to what it is.

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