Special Council Meeting – 17 March 2020 (COVID-19)

Tonight’s Special Council Meeting was called on a day’s notice to address COVID-19 issues, a few days after the pandemic was formally declared.

At this “SCM”, the Town’s first response to COVID-19 was a recommendation to delegate to the CEO all power to “make any lawful decision” deal with the health crisis.

Such a delegation is extremely broad: a “lawful decision” simply being one that is made under an appropriate authority, making this either a circuitous tautology (‘the CEO is authorised to do anything the CEO is authorised to do’) or simply saying the CEO is authorised to do ‘anything Council has authority to do’. Clearly, I was alarmed that Council, an elected representative body with a statutory role to represent its constituents, was being asked to delegate that all away, at extremely short notice.

The broad delegation of all authority was only to be subject to compliance with our Policies (“where practical”), to be done in consultation with the Mayor (again, “where practical”), and to be reported to Council at the next monthly meeting – and was for six months, to 23 September 2020.

Of course there are extremely serious unknowns around this public health crisis – but I could not understand Council fettering its role so entirely, and “abdicating” its core responsibility before we knew what sorts of actions or reactions were really required, and what ability Council had to meet them. I suggested various ways of balancing such a wholesale delegation, but I was only able to persuade other Councillors to limit the delegation to “urgent and emergency” actions. This was passed unanimously, but not without some criticism of me by the Mayor, who seemed to suggest that simply because we didn’t know what the future held, we should delegate our role as a precaution right away. I disagreed – to me, that is not the type of leadership our community would expect, or deserves, from its elected representatives.

Michael Tucak

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