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Ashland declares state of emergency

Ashland City Council voted Tuesday night to ratify a declaration of a state of emergency, authorizing City Administrator Kelly Madding to lead the city through the uncharted waters of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic until at least April 7.

Madding made the declaration at 11 a.m. Monday, March 15, and the council, minus one absent member, voted 5-0 near the end of Tuesday’s meeting to ratify.

The declaration’s approval means Madding will have “ultimate authority and responsibility for the direction and control of city resources,” according to Ashland’s emergency management plan, a 318-page document signed in 2018.

According to the emergency management plan, which is available to view on the “forms and documents” page of the city’s website (Ashland.or.us), a declaration of emergency by the city is the first step in accessing state and federal disaster assistance. The City Council has the legal authority to declare that a local emergency exists, and if a quorum of councilors can’t be assembled, Madding also has that authority.

“I appreciate the efforts, and this is an important step for Ashland to be in the best position to recover from this crisis,” Councilor Rich Rosenthal said.

Councilor Tonya Graham agreed.

“I think some communities are not getting on board and taking proactive measures, and I fear for those communities,” Graham said. “I’m just pleased to see that we are taking aggressive action in the city.”

According to the plan, an emergency declaration must describe the nature of the emergency; designate the geographic boundaries of the area where the emergency exists; estimate the number of individuals at risk, injured or killed; describe the actual or likely damage caused by the emergency; state the type of assistance or resources required to respond to the emergency; state the type of assistance or resources required to respond to the emergency; estimate the length of time during which the designated area will remain in an emergency status; and state the specific regulations or emergency measures imposed because of the declaration of emergency.

A document included in the council’s agenda laid out Madding’s reasoning for declaring a state of emergency. Item “D” read:

“This declaration of a state of emergency is intended to make clear that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure critical public services are maintained and to reduce stress and fear. The city urges citizens to show even greater-than-normal neighborliness, tolerance and patience in the face of inconveniences and uncertainty during this period.”

The state of emergency ratification came after Madding briefed the council on what she’s done over the previous two days to help prepare the city for the anticipated coronavirus impact, starting with the decision Sunday to open Ashland’s Emergency Operations Center.

That decision greatly impacts Ashland’s city government operations, effectively changing roles to those laid out in the emergency plan and, according to Section 7 of Madding’s order, “shall remain in effect until and including April 7, 2020, and may be extended thereafter in two-week increments.”

While Madding is responsible for “providing policy level emergency management,” among other things, Fire Chief David Shepherd and Police Chief Tighe O’Meara are tasked with overseeing and directing the emergency plan as well as making sure Ashland complies with state and federal regulations.

Madding said when she called Shepherd to tell him it was probably time, he said he was in the process of texting her to say the same thing.

The goal and the primary purpose for the move, Madding said, is “to protect the city of Ashland employees and to maintain the city’s essential services.”

After activating Ashland’s emergency response, Madding met with the city’s department heads, including Shepherd, O’Meara, Parks Director Michael Black, Public Works Superintendent Mike Morrison and Assistant City Administrator Adam Hanks to develop an initial 72-hour plan. During that meeting a plan was set in motion to complete 12 tasks outlined in the EMP, including making sure staff is trained to assume emergency responsibilities.

Figuring out how city employees can continue to do their jobs amid a growing pandemic has proven to be a tough hurdle to clear, Madding said.

“I know that sounds minor, but that is taking an inordinate amount of time,” she said.

That challenge extends to the City Council, which will use a video conferencing app — Zoom — to hold its next meeting in order to limit contact and decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Ashland's historic City Hall is in need of a seismic upgrade. Daily Tidings/ Denise Baratta