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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry has once again extended the City’s State of Emergency. But approval of the measure, which was first approved on March 17 and extended seven times prior to the May 11 City Commission meeting, did not happen without debate. Commissioners initially voted the eighth extension down and then brought it back for a second vote. Three Commissioners first voted against Resolution 2020-20, at which point the resolution failed to pass.

Commissioners Tim Marden, Rick Coleman and Paul Norfleet cast the dissenting votes on the first round of voting. Marden said he thought people should be able to make their own decisions about facemasks in public.

Newberry has been in a constant state of emergency since the middle of March. The dissenting commissioners expressed their concern that just because of the state of emergency, that didn’t supersede people’s rights under the Constitution. Commissioners Marden and Coleman indicated they were sending a message with their votes.

Commissioner Rocky McKinley said he didn’t want to tie the hands of the city manager and, although he would like things to move along personally so he could hold services, he said he felt he had to act in the best interest of the entire community – not just his own interests.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe pointed out several times that Newberry is still under the directives of the Governor and County, whether the City officially approves the Resolution or not. “State-wide, we are in a state of emergency,” Marlowe said.

Although the resolution failed earlier, the topic came up again near the end of the meeting. Learning that there were not only financial implications having to do with reimbursement from FEMA and other agencies, should that be necessary, Commissioners also heard from City Manager Mike New that there were programs he would not be able to implement if the City was not in a state of emergency.

Following a brief discussion, Commissioners voted unanimously to suspend the Rules of Procedure so they could again address the question of Resolution 2020-20.

Director of Finance & Administration Dallas Lee explained that approximately 500 citizens required utility assistance during the month of April. “So far this month 20 customers have contacted the City expressing a need for assistance and another 30 haven’t contacted the City, but have not paid their bills.”

New explained that a Utility Assistance Program, which had been developed by Lee, could be implemented while the City is in a State of Emergency. However, he said he would be unable to implement the program otherwise. During the previous month, the City paid the utility bills for those people who couldn’t pay. New said that Lee’s concept would mean that the City could partner with the Community Action Agency and not bear the burden alone.

Prior to considering the resolution for the second time, the city’s attorney read Resolution 2020-20 once again. McKinley made a motion to approve the resolution with Commissioner Monty Farnsworth seconding. In a second vote, Commissioners approved the resolution in a 3-2 vote with Marden and Norfleet voting nay. Farnsworth reiterated the fact that Resolution 2020-20 would be in place until the next City Commission meeting, which will take place on May 26.

Commissioners initially approved Resolution 2020-14 on March 17, which formally put Newberry in a State of Emergency due to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The resolution was continued one time by passage of Resolution 2020-15 on March 23. Proclamations were subsequently approved on March 30, April 6, April 13, and again on April 20, which extended the State of Emergency seven more days with the approval of each action. The Commission continued the State of Emergency by approval of Resolution 2020-19 on April 27 and by proclamation again on May 4.

Approval of Resolution 2020-20 will allow city staff time to put measures in place that can help residents if the Commission votes not to continue the formal state of emergency at the next meeting.

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