New Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega is set to issue a proclamation on Jan. 12 continuing the declaration of emergency issued by his predecessor.

Ortega said declaration is necessary because the primary responsibilities of local government are to safeguard community health and public safety and facilitate the business environment. 

‘Whether it involves pure drinking water, reliable sanitation, police and fire protection, or traffic safety; the mayor and council are focused on community wellness and defeating the coronavirus,” Ortega said.

The emergency declaration, currently on the City Council’s Jan. 12 consent agenda, is largely identical to the declaration issued by outgoing Mayor Jim Lane last year in response to the pandemic.

The declaration gives broad authority to City Manager Jim Thompson to take steps to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Scottsdale, including restricting or closing city buildings, limiting hours of operations at public facilities and imposing screening measures for entry to city facilities.

Thompson is also authorized to cancel or postpone special events authorized by the city “that may reasonably endanger the health, safety or general welfare of the public.”

The city utilized that power to cancel an off-road vehicle expo at Westworld in October halfway through the event for non-compliance with mitigation measures.

However, Thompson and city staff  thus far have been reticent to utilize the power more broadly, allowing many special events to continue despite rising case numbers citywide, including dozens of youth sporting events and the upcoming Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The declaration also authorizes the suspension of city procurement rules and policies for purchases related to mitigating virus spread.

Under Arizona state law, mayors are allowed to declare emergencies by proclamation in the specific situations.

Under Scottsdale City Ordinance, the emergency declaration by mayoral proclamation must be voted on by City Council at the next Council meeting and cannot remain in effect without a vote for more than seven days.

“If there were five pedestrian fatalities a week at the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Osborn, we would take immediate action,” Ortega said. “Just east of that very intersection, hundreds of casualties are being treated by Honor Health Hospital.” 

He added, “To fight the coronavirus pandemic, we must align with Maricopa County Department of Health Services protocols, Center for Disease Control guidance and the advice of local healthcare institutions, which are being stressed to the limit.”

Notably, the new declaration does not include a mask mandate.

Lane initially issued an order in June requiring mask wearing in most public places in Scottsdale but allowed that order to lapse in September, because Maricopa County had, by then, issued its own over-arching mandate that covered all cities in the county.

Some critics and public health experts decried Lane’s decision, arguing the city’s mandate, though duplicative with the county order, still carried symbolic significance.

But Lane defended the decision, stating he had no interest in “duplicating other efforts just for symbolism.”

When asked if he would seek to instate additional mitigation measures, including a local mask mandate, Ortega said it was a possibility.

“I am seriously considering enacting an additional emergency declaration as conditions warrant.