Highlands East has declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is taking steps to prepare itself.

The municipality made the declaration March 19. It said the declaration allows the head of council to take action and make orders to address the situation and lets the municipality provide WSIB protection to volunteers helping during the crisis.

Mayor Dave Burton said it should also help the municipality access resources from upper evels of government going forward.

“Declaring this local State of Emergency is not a decision I made lightly. With the rapidly evolving changes regarding the COVID-19 pandemic I felt it was a necessary, proactive measure,” Burton said in a press release. “The Emergency Control Group is meeting on a daily basis to address matters as they arise. We have a dedicated group whose main focus is to protect the community, members of staff and their families.”

Council also met March 19 and passed a Delegation of Authority Bylaw, allowing chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter to perform administrative and legislative tasks to manage the municipality. Clerk Robyn Rogers noted a similar measure is used during election time. Council has suspended regular meetings and closed facilities due to COVID-19.

“We’re trying to do social distancing, so that makes it quite hard for council to come together to make the decisions,” Rogers said. “There are restrictions still in place … Just looking to be proactive so we can continue the business of the municipality.”

Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall supported the motion but said bigger things like policy and bylaw changes need to be kept to council.

“I don’t really think we should be abdicating everything,” Ryall said.

Council also agreed to amend the municipal procedural bylaw to allow for electronic participation of meetings in case of a public health emergency.

The municipality said it will continue to provide updates through media releases.

“These are trying and unsettling times,” Burton said. “But if we come together, support one another, this too shall pass.”


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