Park Falls Mayor Michael Bablick declared a state of emergency Wednesday, enabling him under state law to take immediate actions to combat the looming coronavirus pandemic.
The action is in direct response to Gov. Tony Evers' Safer at Home order, which orders the closure of businesses deemed to be nonessential, orders no gatherings of any size, and places restrictions on travel in Wisconsin for a month in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The proclamation will allow the mayor and council to meet publicly by electronic device, suspend certain city ordinances as they concern public health and safety, modify the city employee policy manual regarding sick leave, vacation policy, and flexible work schedules, and authorize city officials to implement any federal or state law changes immediately. It will also allow the city to spend from the general fund to meet the needs of responding to the pandemic.
“After considerable personal contemplation, legal review, and evaluation of the current orders by Gov. Evers, I have decided today to issue this proclamation,” Bablick wrote in a statement. "This will allow the city to adequately respond to any issues that may arise, either in order to comply with the governor’s orders or other COVID-19 related issues.”
After the Safer at Home order was announced Tuesday, city leaders immediately responded by reviewing the order and dispatching police to each business deemed nonessential by the order, according to an email sent to council members.
City administrator Brentt Michalek also held an open-air meeting with employees in the public works department and public library employees, directing them to stay home until further notice starting Wednesday. In a memo, Michalek said employees will be paid.
The proclamation stands until April 21, when the next common council meeting is scheduled.
Bablick said that a statutorily-required meeting following the spring election date was the key driver in declaring the emergency. Since the governor’s order goes until April 24, the council needed a way to meet electronically in the meantime, Bablick said.
“The reasons for this proclamation were legal, not that I feel there is any sort of health and safety risk that’s imminent in the City of Park Falls, beyond just the general spread of COVID-19,” Bablick said. “That could certainly change as things move forward, but at this time it was really in order to have the ability to respond to things. If any other situations arise where there is more of a problem we will alert the community.”
The declaration adds Park Falls to a short list of northland cities declaring emergencies. Both Ashland and Washburn made similar declarations last week.