Coronavirus has changed how Summit County is functioning, including unelected officials gaining broad powers
The coronavirus pandemic has significantly altered how local governments are functioning, with public meetings being canceled and postponed, staff working remotely and resources being shifted to mitigate the effects of a public health crisis unparalleled in the county’s modern history.
In the wake of emergency measures declared last week, County Manager Tom Fisher and Health Director Rich Bullough have sweeping powers that are not subject to oversight from the County Council, authority perhaps most visibly demonstrated by Bullough’s order Sunday mandating the closure of restaurants and bars but for takeout food service.
Officials have said that declaring a state of emergency as they did last Thursday allowed the governments to access some federal and state aid and other local municipalities have followed suit, including Park City, Francis and Kamas.
Fisher is now empowered to redirect personnel and millions of dollars of county funds to fight the epidemic. On Monday, he reported to the County Council that some librarians are now working in the Emergency Operations Center and being trained to answer questions from the public, for example.
County Councilor Kim Carson said the emergency powers are broad but necessary for the county to respond to the quickly evolving situation.
“I fully support it in this instance” Carson said. “They also don’t do anything without consulting with us. It’s not — we don’t have any ability to approve it, but I think if we told them they were totally off the rails, they’d — I don’t think they’d probably act.”
The Emergency Operations Center is set up in the basement of the Health Department facility in Quinn’s Junction under the command of Deputy County Manager Janna Young, Fisher said Monday. She is working alongside Summit County Emergency Manager and Sheriff’s Lt. Alan Siddoway and Park City Emergency Program Manager Mike McComb.
The center serves to handle requests for county support in an effort to allow the Health Department to focus on its responsibilities, which include tracking local cases of the coronavirus.
“Every other issue associated with this comes to the EOC for triage,” Fisher said, “whether that’s from businesses asking questions about how do I comply with the order … (or) just a general citizen if they have questions.”
Fisher said the center is akin to incident command during a search-and-rescue effort or a natural disaster, and Carson said the last time the county set one up was in 2013 for the Rockport Fire.
The county is following the advice it’s given to local businesses, Fisher said, encouraging employees to work remotely and canceling meetings or other public gatherings.
County Clerk Kent Jones reported that his office isn’t processing passport applications or marriage licenses, but it is keeping the filing window for people seeking public office open until Thursday as scheduled.
Other governments around the county are delaying normal operations, as well, with some East Side municipalities canceling public meetings, the South Summit School Board limiting attendance at its board meetings to 25 people with the rest encouraged to stream the meeting on Facebook Live and the Eastern Summit County Planning Commission canceling its Thursday meeting.
The county is looking at how to host meetings virtually, Fisher said.
“(With) the average age of the East Side Planning Commission, I don’t want them all in the same room at the same time and so we’ve got to come up with something different,” he said.
Postponing or canceling public meetings will start to affect the functioning of county government, Council Chair Doug Clyde said.
“There’s not much on our agenda but there are items such as plats, etc., that are coming up in Planning Commission that are obviously crucially important (to the landowners),” he said.
And with the massive financial effects mounting daily, Clyde said the county government should focus on how to return to normalcy.
“Something we need to think about every day: How are we going to reverse this?” Clyde said.
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It was an important decision since the rest of the talks will be heavily influenced by the processing option selected by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.