Meeting for the second time remotely due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Edmonds City Council on Tuesday night approved a range of measures related to the pandemic, including moratoriums in Edmonds on evictions of small business and non-profit tenants, and also one preventing residential evictions — both for 60 days. The council also approved a long-discussed request to help the Edmonds Senior Center secure a $2 million line of credit so it can complete its new Waterfront Center building.
Under the Waterfront Center plan, approved unanimously, the senior center will get a bank loan — in the form of a line of credit — with the city guaranteeing the loan by depositing $2 million into a certificate of deposit. The senior center plans to draw on that credit line through Oct. 31, 2020 to pay construction costs. The action helps the senior center free up a $4 million state grant for the senior center’s new $16.35 million Waterfront Center project. The grant was contingent on the center being able to show that it has received funding commitments to finish the project. The senior center has raised $14 million but has a $2.3 million gap to close.
The moratorium on small business evictions prohibits property owners from terminating tenants’ leases or right to occupy a premises. It also encourages property owners to arrange rental payment plans or discounted rent schedules. The moratorium on residential evictions prevents landlords from issuing a termination unless actions by the tenant constitutes an imminent threat to the health or safety of neighbors, the landlord, or the tenant’s or landlord’s household members.
Councilmembers also approved two other COVID-related items. First, they agreed to place a sunset time of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 on Mayor Mike Nelson’s stay-at-home order — which they had approved in an emergency meeting Sunday. Second, they okayed an emergency compensation plan for city employees — many of whom fulfill key duties including parks maintenance and wastewater treatment plant operations — in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and associated emergency order.
The move to sunset Sunday’s Edmonds stay-at-home order was requested by Nelson to avoid any conflicts or confusion, since Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday issued his own stay-at-home order — and that becomes effective at midnight Wednesday.
Nelson’s local order was based on an amendment to the city’s Disaster Preparation and Coordination ordinance — approved by the council Sunday — which gave the mayor the authority to issue Sunday’s order. During Sunday’s meeting, Nelson said that any emergency ordinance — including the one approved Sunday — would have to go before the city council “as soon as practical.” In the case of the ordinance, the council was told they would be able to review and ratify it at the Tuesday, March 24 meeting, but it wasn’t on the agenda. That’s because City Attorney Jeff Taraday said he wanted more time to provide legal analysis of citizen concerns raised by the emergency ordinance.
That didn’t sit well with the councilmembers who expected the opportunity to discuss it Tuesday night. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis proposed adding it to the agenda but it failed on a 3-4 vote. Councilmember Susan Paine then moved that Taraday be given four to six weeks to present an analysis, and that was approved.
Among those mayoral powers approved by the council Sunday — which are not currently in effect but could be in the future if the mayor had a reason to implement them — is subsection G. It would allow the mayor — or any future mayors — to prohibit the carrying or possession of firearms “or any instrument which is capable of producing bodily harm and which is carried or possessed with intent to use the same to cause such harm.”
That’s one of the reasons councilmembers said they wanted to discuss the measure in more detail Tuesday night. And in fact, a familiar face showed up at the council chambers to talk about the issue — tax activist and gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman. Because councilmembers were all calling in via the Go2Meeting platform to observe social distancing, the chambers were empty except for City Clerk Scott Passey, who was monitoring the video stream. Eyman and a group of others appeared on the Go2Meeting video, standing behind Passey and waving to the council. At that point, Councilmember Laura Johnson raised a point of order to request the men to stop. “They are not following the governor’s orders (regarding 6 feet of social distance) and putting staff at risk,” Johnson declared.
The council then took a several-minute break and when the meeting resumed, the group was gone.
On the Tim Eyman for Governor Facebook page, he confirmed that he and his supporters came to Edmonds “demanding the council modify their proposed emergency ordinance to remove Section G because it is a vicious attack on our 2nd Amendment rights.” The measure is “totally unconstitutional, unneeded, and unwelcome,” the Facebook post said.
Regarding the proposed emergency compensation plan, City Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson explained that the plan would be specifically tied to the governor’s stay-at-home order, but added the council can consider a standing policy later to cover other emergency events. She explained that while governments are considered essential businesses, not all of its functions are considered essential. In addition, not all of its essential work can be done remotely.
“If you are not considered essential and cannot do your work remotely then the employees should not be working during the stay-at-home order,” she said. The city has addressed these types of emergency situations in the past on an ad hoc basis, but this has led to “inequity and confusion” among employees, she said. The proposed policy would clearly establish how compensation would be handled during the goverors stay-at-home order, she said.
Under the plan, employees would work a split shift to reduce the number of staff who are working together at one time — and it also isolates a group of employees for that week. Neil Hoyson noted that a city parks employee did test positive for COVID-19 “and when we conducted an analysis of those employees who had had close and prolonged contact with that employee we did have to notify 12 employees that they had to quarantine,” she said. Luckily the majority of those employees were already teleworking, although two of the staff had to be sent home, and they could not do their work remotely, she added.
The emergency compensation plan divides employees into three categories, each with a different level of pay depending on their situation.
Category 1: Employees who must physically report to work for at least 20% of their regular workweek would receive a 6% pay differential. This additional compensation recognizes the potential hazards the employee may be exposed to.
Category 2: Employees who can perform at least 40% the essential functions of their job via telecommuting would receive a 3% pay differential. These are employees who must minimally be physically present on the worksite and therefore have less potential hazard exposure.
Category 3: Employees who cannot telecommute and are not required to physically report to work will receive a standard rate of pay. Most of the staff in this category are those employees who will be working split shifts and can’t do their work remotely, Neil Hoyson explained. Employees who are on this stand-by leave may be asked to complete online training courses.
Because this proposal for emergency employee compensation came to the council late in the day Tuesday, and there were no financial details attached, some councilmembers wondered if approving it could be delayed a week, with the pay backdated if approved at that time. But the council was urged to approve it Tuesday night to ensure it was in place prior to the governor’s order taking effect Wednesday. In addition, Public Works Director Phil Williams — who oversees wastewater treatment plant employees — said the extra pay as proposed would acknowledge that there are associated hazards in coming to work during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Nell Hoyson estimated that given an approximate average city salary of around $65,000 annually, two weeks of additional pay at the 6% rate would be $150 per employee, and at 3% would be around $71. Williams estimated that — averaged out among all the city’s approximately 200 employees — the total cost would be $24,000 in emergency compensation during the governor’s two-week stay-at-home order. Councilmember Olson said she appreciates the work of employees, but added she worried about the impact on the city’s resources if the governor’s order goes beyond two weeks.
In the end, the council voted 6-1 to approve the emergency compensation plan, with Councilmember Kristiana Johnson voting no.
— By Teresa Wippel