BEMIDJI -- The city of Bemidji on Friday joined the state and federal governments in declaring an emergency in response to the coronavirus.

In passing a resolution over a telephone meeting, the Bemidji City Council established a local emergency. In doing so, the city manager, the emergency management director and other designated officials are authorized to bypass existing city policies and procedures if it means a better response to federal or state coronavirus directions.

Additionally, all of the city's departments and staff are directed to operate and support the response to the emergency, under the coordination of the city manager and the local emergency management team. This can include implementing new employee protocols and staff strategies, as well as operational strategies and processes to ensure that public services are maintained.

The resolution, approved unanimously by the council, also authorized Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht and City Manager Nate Mathews to approve any necessary agreements, contracts or related documents necessary to implement corrective action to the emergency. Before the resolution was approved, language was added to inform the council immediately about any of those potential agreements and contracts.

"The city charter specifies that the city manager has discretion of up to $20,000 for expenditure decisions. That's going to be kept in place," Mathews said. "When it comes to entering into contracts, we have no policy on that, but we will be communicating with all of our departments, and we wouldn't anticipate going down the road with any major expenditures without discussing that with the council."

Later in the meeting, Mathews also said the Sanford Center, the city-owned event facility, is available for use during this emergency.

"We have that building ready to go," Mathews said. "We've informed Sanford Health that it is ready and available, should we need more space for things. We have used it very well the last couple of weeks for food distribution."

The resolution comes 10 days after the city closed buildings including Neilson Reise Arena, the Bemidji Public Library, the Carnegie Library, all park buildings, the Tourist Information Center and the history museum. According to the city's website, City Hall is also closed. Residents are asked to call (218) 759-3560 for utility bill questions or visit the city's website: www.ci.bemidji.mn.us.

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