When the Glynn County Commission declared a state of emergency Friday, it gave itself a slew of powers, including a few some might consider unusual and controversial.
Expected actions granted in the emergency declaration include calling for an evacuation, imposing and enforcing curfews, closing all or part of the county to public access, restricting business activity and public gatherings and suspending or temporarily amending any ordinance and enforcement as necessary.
Unexpected ones include granting itself the ability to “command or utilize” private property when necessary in responding to an emergency, temporarily seizing private property “for the protection of the public,” limiting or suspending the sale, transfer or transportation of alcohol, guns, explosives and combustibles and the opened-ended ability to use any “functions, powers and duties” that may be necessary.
Before issuing a declaration, the commission must seek advice and concurrence from the state emergency management agency.
“The vote to declare a state of emergency only allows the board of commissioners to meet without some of the regular meeting rules — (such as) timing, length of notice — or delegate the power to the chairman — which is often done during a hurricane, but not in this instance — and to vote on emergency changes to the ordinances,” said county spokesman Matthew Kent. “Hence why they declared a state of emergency and then discussed and voted on closing the beaches (on Friday).”
According to the emergency management ordinance, a majority vote is needed to take any of the emergecy actions, but the chairman may do so himself if a majority of commissioners cannot attend a meeting.
“These are things the state has determined to be useful for governments to have in an emergency situation,” said commission chairman Mike Browning.
Browning noted that the state government also gets its fair share of expanded power, including the ability to temporarily suspend state laws, restrict travel and directly command state employees.
“It’s very interesting to see the powers the state and local governments have in an emergency,” Browning said.
The trouble with most of the powers lies in enforcement, Kent said. Attempting to exercise any of the powers would likely require research to make sure the county would be doing so in a legal manner.
Browning said the commission has no intention of using any of the powers on the list aside from those it can easily rationalize.
“The only thing this board is considering is how to best protect the citizens of Glynn County from the coronavirus,” Browning said. “Those other things the commission has available to it, I just don’t see how, and I don’t think the rest of the board sees how, they could help protect this community from the spread of the virus.”
The commission is entirely focused on using its powers to enforce social distancing and quarantining recommendations issued by the state Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
Many are already doing so, but it’s the ones that don’t the commission is worried about.
“How much compliance are we going to have voluntarily? It may not be enough,” Browning said. “But getting into firearms, that’s of no interest to us.”