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Spokane City Council withdraws mayor’s COVID-19 state of emergency; administration calls action ‘premature’

UPDATED: Wed., June 9, 2021

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Deeming it redundant and no longer necessary, the Spokane City Council terminated Mayor Nadine Woodward’s local coronavirus state of emergency on Monday.

The City Council argued that Spokane is entering a “new normal” and that the “emergency response posture” is no longer necessary.

The administration disagrees, noting that Spokane remains in Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, and the state is not scheduled to fully reopen until June 30.

“It’s a little premature,” said city spokesman Brian Coddington. “We’ve focused all along for the past 15 to 16 months on following the state guidance, and the state guidance has not changed.”

Woodward declared a state of emergency on March 16, 2020, and then amended it four days later. The council immediately ratified the amended declaration, which remains active until withdrawn by the mayor or terminated via City Council resolution.

The council did just that on Monday, passing a resolution that stated “it is apparent that there is no longer a need for a local emergency declaration.”

Public life can resume if done according to public health guidance, according to the resolution, and “after over a year of acute response, we no longer see the necessity for keeping the City of Spokane in an emergency response posture; rather, we are embarked on a ‘new normal’ for how we do business and provide services to the public as a municipality.”

To justify its position, the council pointed to loosening public health guidelines recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the increasing number of Spokane County residents who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Coddington noted that still only about half of county residents have received a first dose and the administration is continuing to focus on supporting community vaccination efforts.

The council also used the resolution to destroy any notion of an ongoing COVID-related hiring freeze in City Hall.

“With that emergency in place it kind of paralyzed some city services to some degree, so we’re definitely wanting to get back to hiring people and putting out the human resources request for people to apply,” said Councilwoman Candace Mumm.

There was never a full hiring freeze, according to Coddington, but the city did require new hires to be vetted by the city administrator to ensure they were necessary. That is no longer the case, Coddington said, and City Administrator Johnnie Perkins made that clear in a citywide email this week.

The administration is concerned that the council’s termination of the state of emergency could limit the mayor’s ability to quickly issue contracts for programs like homeless shelters.

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