Baytown council extended the city’s emergency disaster declaration indefinitely Thursday.
Also, Mayor Brandon Capetillo was given the authority to make emergency council decisions if a quorum of council members cannot be met.
Meeting without the public present because of the COVID-19 virus, council unanimously agreed to extend the emergency declaration enacted on March 13 indefinitely.
City Attorney Ignacio Ramirez spoke about the powers the mayor has through the declaration extension.
“It gives certain powers to the mayor for him to take action quickly, rather than call (council) together,” Ramirez said.
Capetillo said the initial emergency declaration had a seven-day lifespan and required council action to extend it.
“It is in place until we remove it, and we will remove it once there is no more state of emergency (because of the coronavirus),” Capetillo said. “It also extends the executive order capability authority provided by state law. My role as mayor in an emergency situation is as the emergency management director.”
Capetillo described what would happen if he needed to make a decision under this provision.
“If an emergency decision needed to be made, my first action is to find out if we can we assemble a quorum of council,” he said. “If not, then I will have to make an executive decision, but it would be something within reasonable bounds. And it has to be reasonable. Say something happens on Sunday and we have to react quickly. This gives me the authority to do so.”
Capetillo described a reasonable decision as something falling within a public health concern such as having to close a business because of the possibility of COVID-19 virus spreading.
Capetillo said after meeting with other area mayors, one suggestion was to establish some continuity of government.
“I do not mean to be morbid, but if I was no longer here, what is the pecking order?” he asked.
City Manager Rick Davis said he has already signed a continuity of government and continuity of operations documents.
“These are internal plans that specify how in any contingency, we will continue governance and the operations of the city,” Davis said.
Councilman Bob Hoskins said communication was very important.
“We need to make sure the city does what it can to answer questions,” Hoskins said. “We need to briefly put whatever is out there available.”
Capetillo agreed but cautioned the city is not always in a position to answer every question.
Capetillo said the city plans to keep putting out videos every Monday to update residents on the virus situation. These can be found on the city’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BaytownCityHall. Councilwoman Laura Alvarado serves as the Spanish-speaking liaison for the videos.
“We are going to try to communicate the facts as we know it,” Capetillo said. “We are here to govern, be level-headed and make the right decisions for everybody. We will use social media to answer as much as we can. What we are not going to do is let social media govern for us.”
Councilman Charles Johnson said he had been asked many times about people that do not have internet access.
“We are using the newspaper and social media, plus we also have Swiftreach,” Capetillo said. “Almost everyone has a phone. We’ll use it as things change.”
Capetillo also said there is Channel 16, which broadcasts city happening such as council meetings, for those that have cable through Comcast.
To sign up for Swiftreach in Baytown, visit www.baytown.org/city-hall/departments/fire/emergency-management/swiftreach.