HALLOWELL — City Councilors approved ordinance changes Tuesday in an effort to reduce conflicts in Hallowell’s emergency operations plan.

At Tuesday’s meeting, conducted over the Zoom video conferencing platform, councilors voted to suspend rules requiring three separate-day readings of ordinances before they become official, citing an emergency.

The changes passed by a series of 6-1 votes. Councilor Maureen Aucoin, who has been an outspoken critic of the amendments, cast each dissenting vote.

The draft changes take into account some feedback from councilors made last week, adding a member of the city’s Board of Health to the Emergency Operations Staff and only needing four of seven City Council votes to repeal an emergency order, rather than five of seven votes suggested in last week’s draft amendments.

Councilor Kate Dufour said Tuesday the changes are a “good step forward.”

The Hallowell City Council meets Tuesday via the Zoom video conferencing platform. Kennebec Journal image by Sam Shepherd

Dufour floated the changes last week, saying they aim to clearly define the roles of members of the City Council, the Emergency Operations Staff and city employees, when the city’s ordinances previously conflicted. Before any amendments, Chapter 12 of the city’s ordinances, which contains procedures for the city’s Emergency Management Plan, assigns crisis management to the City Council, while Chapter 4, which deals with public safety, assigns crisis management to the city manager.

While those ordinances conflict, a clause in Chapter 4 reads, “At all times when an emergency proclamation is in effect, the orders, rules and regulations made and promulgated pursuant to this ordinance shall supersede all existing ordinances, orders, rules and regulations.”

According to the draft amendments available with Tuesday’s meeting’s agenda, the City Council’s role in emergency operations would approve any changes to the Emergency Operations Plan and provide guidance to a specially selected city staff and prepare any ordinances needed during its emergency operations.

Dufour said the city manager would maintain control during the crisis with oversight from the Emergency Management Staff, which would be overseen by the City Council.

Echoing comments she made last week, Aucoin said she did not agree with the amendments. She said Chapter 12 should override Chapter 4, as previous City Councils likely thought it was better for the council to be in control during an emergency.

She praised City Manager Nate Rudy for declaring the emergency, but said decisions during the coronavirus pandemic should come from the City Council from now on.

“I think it’s up to us to make the bigger policy decisions,” Aucoin said.

Aucoin also expressed distaste with the proposed Emergency Management Staff, supporting a staff approved in a previous draft of the Emergency Management Plan. She said that staff in the previous draft of the plan was more diverse because it included members of the City Council, has women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

With the amendments passing, the Emergency Management Staff transitions to Mayor Mark Walker; City Council President George Lapointe; Diano Circo, chairperson of the City Council’s Protection Committee; Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief Jim Owens; Police Chief Scott MacMaster; Chris Buck, director of Public Works and highway foreman; and a health board member. Rudy nominated Scott Schiff-Slater for the position, making all of the candidates and nominees for the staff white men.

“It’s just not something I can support,” Aucoin said Tuesday. “I don’t think any leadership team should be so homogenous.”

Councilor George Lapointe said he supported the makeup of the team because the people included are part of it “by virtue of their position.”

Councilor Patrick Wynne said he supported the amendments but also supported revisiting the ordinance, acknowledging the aforementioned positions might be easier to attain for white men than for other demographics.

Resident April Fenton said she agreed with Aucoin, adding the council should think about that as the emergency progresses or before another emergency begins.

“We need to be sure to include people who represent Hallowell, and I think that’s the most important piece,” Fenton said. “I understand you’re not going to go the way I wished you would.”

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