Purcellville Outlines Town Manager Powers, Succession Plan in Emergency

Three weeks into its state of local emergency, the Town of Purcellville now has a set of ordinances to follow during the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to adopt an ordinance regulating government operations during states of local emergency. Town Manager David Mekarski declared the state of emergency March 16. The ordinance lays out an emergency succession plan, steps to take when making new hires, giving promotions and amending contracts, and protocols for electronic meetings.

If the town manager is unable to act during a state of emergency, he will be succeeded jointly by the administration director, who will direct normal governmental operations, and the police chief, who will direct emergency command operations.

When Councilman Nedim Ogelman raised concern about the checks and balances of the town manager during emergency situations, Mekarski said there was a rationale for the succession pattern. He pointed out that he is trained under the Incident Command System and has experience dealing with natural disasters. In 2004, while working as the city manager of Vero Beach, FL, Mekarski said he led efforts to rebuild the community following more than $60 million of damage left by hurricanes Frances and Jeane.

Mekarski said the only other individuals within the Purcellville town government with that sort of training are Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and Deputy Police Chief Dave Dailey. He added that he was confident in Administration Director Hooper McCann’s abilities to manage the town’s day-to-day operations.

            Under the ordinance, the town manager may also designate emergency interim successors for the positions of town clerk, town attorney and all department directors.

During states of emergency, the town manager, or his successor, may hire, promote, transfer and reinstate employees as needed; change employee job functions and set wages to account for those changes; convert nonexempt employees to exempt status as allowed under the Fair Labor Standards Act; and establish leave and work-from-home policies. Staffers are prohibited from filing grievances against the town during states of emergencies.

The town manager or successor also will have the authority to amend the terms of existing contracts as needed to address the emergency and expend money from reserve funds; defer due dates for taxes, charges and fees; prohibit the public from entering or congregating around town-owned buildings and real property; suspend the provision of nonessential government services; and cancel or postpone town events.

During states of emergency, the Town Council can adopt ordinances without first advertising or holding public hearings if the town manager determines that the adoption of such ordinances are necessary to continue government functions. The town manager also would need to find that a delay caused by the need to advertise and hold a public hearing would harm public health, safety or welfare, or if the physical assembly of the public would cause that harm.

During states of emergency, the town manager may disallow public attendance at meetings to protect public health, safety or welfare as long as those meetings feature live audio and video broadcasts and dial-in phone numbers to accommodate at least 100 people, among other provisions.

The town manager may also direct that meetings be held solely by electronic means without a quorum of council members physically present. If the Town Council lacks quorum, either physically or electronically, a majority vote by the council members participating in the meeting will make a decision binding.

Vice Mayor Tip Stinnette said the new ordinance was crafted using the Town of Leesburg’s ordinance, adopted April 3 as a guideline.

“They follow in lockstep,” Stinnette said. “It’s not like we’re out there making this stuff up on our own.”

Any provision of the ordinance can be amended by a Town Council vote at any time.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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