Kalispell Declares State of Local Emergency

Ordinance allowing city to access emergency funding in response to COVID-19 draws protests

By Maggie Dresser
Charolette Boyland participates in a protest in front of Kalispell City Hall on April 6, 2020. About 30 people gathered to protest part of a new ordinance put forth by the City of Kalispell. Ordinance 1840 is an state of emergency ordinance that grants the Kalispell city manager the authority to, among other things, direct law enforcement to enforce quarantines or curfews in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the city has no intent to enact a curfew at this time. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The City of Kalispell declared a state of local emergency after passing an ordinance in an 8-1 vote on Monday night in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If necessary, the declaration of emergency ordinance authorizes City Manager Doug Russell to access emergency funding, modify city purchases and modify council meeting dates and methodology for 90 days.

“We’re not ceding our control of the city manager for the control of all city functions,” Mayor Mark Johnson said. “It’s really just to deal with the issues of COVID-19.”

The declaration gives Kalispell the resources and “ability to act and react with our county health department,” Johnson said.

The council meeting was held via videoconference.

The ordinance also authorizes the city manager to “prevent ingress to or egress from all or part of the City and to direct law enforcement to enforce quarantines and curfews,” meaning the city could enforce the stay-at-home order and set a curfew, if necessary. However, Russell has clarified that “there is no curfew being implemented and no ingress or egress (restrictions),” and the city is following state and county public health guidelines.

The ordinance led some residents to protest on Monday during the meeting in a demonstration outside of City Hall organized by Annie Bukacek, a local physician and member of the Flathead City-County Health Board, who said in an email to media that the city was ushering in “martial law.”

While the city manager holds certain authorities, officials stressed that the declaration was written in broad terms to address all types of emergencies, meaning orders would only be carried out if deemed necessary.

City Attorney Charles Harball explained to the council that the declaration looks identical to the other cities in Montana that have also declared a state of emergency, which is worded in order to maintain consistency.

“When we’re dealing with issues of quarantine and cutting off ingress and egress, that only occurs as a contingency arises to make it necessary,” Harball said. “If we start playing too much with the language … we may actually be inhibiting our ability to act in the future.”

After city officials discussed postponing the ordinance in order to clarify the declaration’s language, councilors voted to proceed with the exception of Sid Daoud of Ward 4.

“Facing our emergency right now on a lack of data with less than 1% tested, (we’re) maybe jumping the gun and that is why I’m not going to support this resolution,” Daoud said.

Additionally, councilors mentioned the City of Whitefish’s emergency ordinance that restricts reservations at hotels and short-term rentals, but Russell says there is no plan for a similar ordinance to be placed on the City of Kalispell’s agenda in the future.