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My Mayor Has Super Powers?

Texas law sets out various powers of mayors and city council. However, what super powers does a mayor have in an emergency or disaster?

There are three types of city governments allowed under the Texas Constitution: (1) Special law cities created by the Republic of Texas; (2) general law cities operating under the general laws of Texas found mainly in Chapter 51 of the Texas Local Government Code; and (3) home rule cities which have all the power of the state except what the state reserves to itself.

What happens though when natural disasters occur such as flooding in the Brazos River basin, hurricanes hitting Galveston Island, or tornados in north Texas? Or if outrage spurs race riots such as in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland? Or health crises break out, such as Ebola virus in Dallas, Zika virus in Houston, or even zombie attacks?

Fortunately, Texas has mandated that the state, county and all types of cities plan for man-made, as well as natural disasters. Chapter 418 of the Texas Government Code provides for emergency management structure and responses for state and local governments. On the federal level there is, of course, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). An excellent resource is the Texas Emergency Management Executive Guide updated annually.

A local disaster may be declared for any of the following reasons:
• To exercise extraordinary powers
• To formally implement provisions of emergency plans
• To provide additional liability protection to government agencies and special or volunteer emergency workers
• To formally request general assistance from the state and federal governments; and
• To activate preparedness, response and recovery aspects of any and all applicable local emergency management plans.

The procedure for declaring a local disaster is to:
• Notify the emergency management director (mayor or county judge)
• Complete and submit the Disaster Declaration form usually done by the mayor, which declaration lasts for 7 days and may be extended by city council
• Declaration automatically activates Emergency Plan
• If state or federal assistance is being requested, notify the Texas Chief of Emergency Management at 512-424-2208
• Notify the disaster district committee chair
• Activate any mutual aid agreements
• Complete more forms than you ever thought necessary

After the Declaration has been signed, the mayor then is empowered with emergency (super) powers. Those powers include:

  • Suspending procedural laws and rules
  • Suspending deadlines
  • Setting curfews
  • Restricting access to disaster area
  • Controlling movement of persons and occupancy of premises in disaster area
  • Implementing wage, price and rent control
  • Establishing rationing for critical supplies
  • Restricting use of water or other utilities
  • Using any publicly owned resource
  • Commandeering private property with compensation to owner
  • Removing debris from public or privately owned property
  • Restricting outdoor burning
  • Restricting fireworks
  • Confiscating firearms
  • Quarantine and restricting ingress and egress from the city
  • Inspecting hospitals
  • Commencing emergency evacuation
  • Prohibiting the sale or alcohol
  • Prohibiting sale of flammable products explosives or ammunition
  • Calling an emergency meeting on 2 hours’ notice
  • Suspending sign ordinances
  • Allowing temporary housing for 60-day time limit
  • Suspending requirements for license for contractors

Failure to comply will subject the violator to fines, penalties, confiscation of property or jail.

In a local disaster or state emergency, your mayor may think he is Thor with his mighty hammer while the city council may think the mayor is Loki full of mischief, but if a person contracts Ebola and Zika, turns into a zombie, wades through a flood caused by a hurricane, dodges a tornado but causes a riot, the mayor has the specific authority to take the zombie’s beer.Grady Randle advises cities on municipal law and serves as a city attorney.

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