MARS — Mars Mayor Gregg Hartung signed a “Declaration of Disaster Emergency” Wednesday that lays groundwork for the borough to proceed with normal operations without normal regulations.
“(It's for) all borough business until further notice,” Hartung said. “COVID-19 is affecting everything we do.”
As previously reported by The Eagle, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records recently announced normal regulations as established under the Sunshine Act don't legally apply when the state is under a disaster emergency. OOR Executive Director Erik Arneson said local officials are still required to post meeting minutes. Arneson indicated they'd also be encouraged to record and post the meeting itself.
The OOR also announced earlier this month that local governments “must provide a reasonably accessible method for the public to participate and comment” during pubic meetings.
“A meeting via teleconference, webinar, or other electronic method that allows for two-way communication is permissible in most circumstances,” the release says.
However, the “need to comply with certain 'formal requirements'” can be suspended under a declaration of disaster emergency.
Hartung said the borough is still determining how to proceed with council meetings.
“We need public input,” Hartung said. “We're trying to make sure that door remains open.”
He said several ideas — including providing the public with virtual access — are being floated by government officials and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.
“We haven't decided which one we're going to use,” Hartung said.
Mars' declaration, which can be found on the borough's website, will also help the borough with any future emergency reimbursements and to coordinate resources with emergency agencies.
Hartung's decision to sign a disaster emergency declaration didn't occur without council knowledge. He explained how council members participated in an email discussion about the move.
Borough officials have also been in consultation with the borough solicitor.
Hartung said though he had the power to sign the declaration himself, he didn't want to proceed without council's approval.
Council last took official action — aside from approving Hartung's signing of the declaration — at its March 2 meeting. All borough meetings and events are canceled for now.
Hartung said murmurings at the federal level suggest the country may start returning to normal operations by Easter —something he considers “wishful thinking” at this point.
“We're sitting tight,” Hartung said.
The borough office is now closed to visitors and employees are adjusting their work schedules.
Though employees in the police and public works departments remain mostly on-site, borough administrators are working remotely.
“Some days, they're working from home,” Hartung said.
Still, the borough continues to function with all employees and full shifts.
Hartung said borough residents will be updated of any plans via the borough website, social media and the public alert system CodeRED.
Hartung encourages residents who aren't registered for CodeRED to sign-up on the borough website.
“To let people know what's happening,” Hartung said.