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Anne Arundel council holds first closed to public meeting, paves way for coronavirus emergency legislation

District 2 Councilmember Allison Pickard during the Anne Arundel County Council swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Dec 3.
District 2 Councilmember Allison Pickard during the Anne Arundel County Council swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Dec 3. (Brian Krista / Capital Gazette)

The Anne Arundel County Council introduced legislation Monday that would extend the county’s state of civil emergency due to coronavirus through April 4 or until the state-wide emergency declaration ends.

In the meeting, which was closed to the public to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the council also received briefings from Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Matt Power that touched on everything from pay for hourly workers to how community members may be able to volunteer during the pandemic.

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The only bill they considered was the proposed extension to the executive order County Executive Steuart Pittman signed Friday, which declared a civil emergency across the county.

The council will convene at 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning to vote on the bill, said Council Chair Allison Pickard, D-Glen Burnie.

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During a county-wide civil emergency, Pittman could enforce a curfew, limiting access in a geographical area or certain time period of the day or night. Per the county code, this can only last seven days unless the County Council passes a bill to extend it.

It would also give Pittman the authority to call for the closure of liquor stores and stores that sell firearms, which Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, said those rules seemed a bit antiquated, saying it was better suited for a riot situation rather than a public health crisis.

All other aspects of the agenda — including all bill hearings and voting — were delayed until it is safe for the public to participate, Pickard said.

The lifespan of all the bills were extended via executive order by Pittman, which suspended all legal and procedural deadlines until 30 days after the civil emergency ends.

“All of this is being done to ensure the safety of everyone," Pickard said.

While in discussion with Kalyanaraman, councilmembers funneled in questions from their constituents.

Volke and others voiced concerns for hourly county employees whose jobs are unable to be completed remotely. Powers said the county intends to provide administrative leave to ensure that these families do not go without a paycheck.

Some small businesses across the county that are impacted by the coronavirus are receiving leniency on their loans through the county Economic Development Corporation, which is waiving late fees.

Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, asked about direct guidance being provided to local restaurants ordered to close Monday by Gov. Larry Hogan. Kalyanaraman said the Health Department would provide that guidance in the coming days.

Kalyanaraman said the county is working to address the needs of vulnerable communities affected by the outbreak. He noted the importance of mental and behavioral health needs, noting that, “We saw an increase in overdoses this past week, which is, we believe entirely correlated to what is happening.”

Many questions about what comes next went unanswered, as Kalyanaraman declined to speculate, but urged the council to help disseminate accurate information and help slow the spread of the virus to prevent totally overwhelming county healthcare systems.

The council also heard from Pittman’s senior adviser Chris Trumbauer, who warned the body of uncertainty as the May 1 deadline for the county budget looms.

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“We don’t know what the budget situation is going to look like and we have about 45 days to figure it out,” Trumbauer said. “So it’s very likely that we’ll be putting off some preliminary decisions on the budget later than usual to try and get some more clarity on what the revenue picture is going to look like and how long this pandemic may be affecting our county.”

He asked for patience from the council through the process that is, “new territory for everyone.”

“There is an overwhelming amount of uncertainty and we are trying to take things very conservatively headed into May 1,” Trumbauer said. “So you can probably read between the lines here, but this is a much different situation than we thought we would be in three weeks or a month ago.”

The decision to close the meeting to the public was announced just hours after Gov. Larry Hogan said the state would be enforcing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to cancel public gatherings of more than 50 people, called for the closure of all restaurants and bars and suspended utility shut-offs and evictions across the state.

President Donald Trump lowered that recommendation to 10 people in an announcement later Monday.

“We should continue to expect the number of cases to dramatically and rapidly rise,” the governor said. “This is going to be much harder, take much longer and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding."

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