With some reservation, Solon City Council approved an ordinance Monday granting the mayor extraordinary authority to expend funds in the city for certain purchases during the ongoing crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We don’t take this lightly,” Councilman Jeremy A. Zelwin said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has been taking steps to stop the spread of the virus including banning large gatherings, canceling schools for at least three weeks and closing bars and restaurants to sit-down service, among other things.
The ordinance, introduced by Law Director Thomas G. Lobe, states that during the period of the this emergency, the mayor is hereby granted the authority to expend funds of the city up to the amount of $100,000 without public bidding for the following: acquisition of real estate, the discharge of contractual claims against the city, for personal services, for the joint use of facilities or exercise of powers with other political subdivisions, for the product or services of public utilities or in the case of urgent emergency for the immediate protection of public property or public safety.
According to the ordinance, the mayor must advise council of any emergency or purchase and do so in advance if possible or telling council members immediately after.
City Council made a stipulation that the mayor alert them of any purchases in relation to this ordinance via email.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Mr. Lobe said. Part of the job of council is to control the purse and oversight so this ordinance is asking a lot, he said.
“I’m doing this for the unknown health, safety and welfare that I don’t know is occurring,” Mr. Lobe said. “I understand you may have concerns.
“The mayor knows this is an unusual request involving your separation powers.”
Mr. Lobe said he is uncertain what the emergency expenditure could be and the $100,000 was a “spitball number.”
Fire Chief William J. Shaw said when it comes to bidding, the city has a number of cooperative purchasing agreements but a lot of supplies are running low due to the crisis.
The city can find itself in a bind where they need to make a purchase and a vendor may not be part of a consortium.
“Not that it will be $100,000, but we (may) need to make sure we can react very quickly,” Chief Shaw said. He noted that this move is “unprecedented (but) we are re-writing information and 20 minutes later, it’s outdated. I have never seen it move as fast before.
“We want to be able to react quickly,” he added. “We’re not the only ones in this game. It is nationwide and worldwide, and it will be challenging.”
Councilman Robert Shimits said that, in light of the crisis, he would rather have as much available funds as possible than less. “It’s an insurance policy,” he said. “With all the unknowns, we have no idea what is going to happen and what will be expected.”
Councilman Robert N. Pelunis said he agrees something should be in place for the mayor to act, but council still has a job to do. He asked that council be immediately notified.
“I have been very consistent in recognizing our legislative responsibility,” Councilman Marc R. Kotora said. “I don’t love this ordinance at all but I also recognize that we are in unprecedented times right now and the potential is unknown.” He just asked that the mayor stay cautious with this authority.
“We are giving up some of our oversight but this is such a crazy time,” Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany said.
Safety is the paramount objective with this ordinance, Mr. Zelwin noted.
“We don’t know what kinds of purchases are needed or what’s coming,” he said.