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Spokane officials cant agree on what constitutes an ‘emergency’

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(The Center Square) – Spokane City Council discussed what constitutes an “emergency” on Monday, attempting to change the criteria for immediately adopting an ordinance without mayoral approval.

Councilmember Michael Cathcart submitted a measure defining the appropriate use of emergency ordinances in March; however, further action was deferred due to some back-and-forth between the council on whether a clarification was necessary.

Cathcart defended his ordinance during Monday’s city council meeting, noting the importance of preserving the people’s right to a referendum, which an emergency ordinance negates.

“There are things that we deal with that not everyone is going to agree with. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong,” he said, “but not everything is an actual emergency that needs to be put in place the next day.”

An ordinance is a law that local governments pass regarding various topics; typically, after two readings and a public comment opportunity, the city council votes on whether to approve an ordinance before the mayor signs and adopts it.

The ordinance then becomes law after 30 days unless the mayor chooses to veto the measure instead. However, the city council can adopt emergency ordinances without the mayor’s approval, which take effect immediately.

Cathcart’s measure defines an emergency ordinance as any “non-budget ordinance enacted by the Spokane City Council in response to an unforeseen combination of circumstances that demands immediate action.”

His new criteria limiting what constitutes an emergency include:

Evidence of an imminent threat that could potentially cause significant harm in terms of public health, safety or the general welfare of Spokane residents;The situation requires immediate action to stop or handle the threat;The standard legislative procedure cannot address the issue promptly before it intensifies;

In addition to new criteria, each emergency ordinance would require five affirmative votes before adoption. If any ordinance does not meet the requirements listed, the city council would have to deem it void as of the date initially adopted.

Cathcart said the proposed criteria still give the council some flexibility but better define what constitutes an emergency in the event of one.

Last month, Councilmember Zack Zappone motioned to defer Cathcart’s ordinance indefinitely but could only push further action until this week. However, during Monday’s meeting, Zappone spoke up again, voicing dissent, particularly with verbiage about deferment.

Under the proposed criteria, it no longer constitutes an emergency if a non-budget ordinance is deferred longer than four days after its initial reading in a city council legislative session.

Zappone successfully motioned and moved to defer Cathcart’s ordinance again for another two weeks.

“Sometimes it takes a little longer than four days to get council in agreement on something, but with the language in there, it would delay implementation for effectively a month and two weeks,” Zappone said.

The Spokane City Council will reconvene over the matter of emergency ordinances on May 20.