Updated: March 20, 2020 06:41 PM
Created: March 20, 2020 03:37 PM
As the governor contemplates a statewide shelter in place, city leaders in a west metro suburb are looking into whether they have the legal authority to do it first.
5 INVESTIGATES obtained an internal email that shows a Golden Valley official inquired about the possibility. The email from Golden Valley Attorney Maria Cisneros suggests that the west metro suburb is seriously considering drastic measures to deal with the coronavirus.
“I’ve been asked to research whether a city can issue a shelter-in-place order. Has anyone researched this yet?" she wrote to other city attorneys in the state.
The message came just days after San Francisco became the first city to issue its own declaration ahead of the state of California.
The move mandates non-essential workers to stay home unless they need groceries, medication or exercise.
“If one city in the metro right now is thinking about this you have to think that other cities are also,” said David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University.
Schultz said a city’s authority to issue such an order has not really been tested in Minnesota, so it’s unclear if a municipality can beat the governor to the punch.
“From a public policy perspective, it suggests that cities are obviously very worried and are looking for options to protect their population. From a legal perspective, this is really fascinating. The simple answer is we don’t know if cities have the legal authority to do a shelter-in-place,” he said.
Golden Valley City Manager Tim Cruikshank would not comment specifically on what Golden Valley officials have tasked the city attorney to research but told 5 INVESTIGATES they are always trying to think ahead and be prepared for whatever may come.
Thus far, Gov. Tim Walz has resisted a statewide shelter-in-place policy to stop the spread of the virus, but he admitted in a news conference Friday that it’s under consideration.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, the dominos are falling fast. California, New York and Illinois have deployed similar lockdowns.
The next question is how will officials — on a city or state level — enforce these extreme measures, or can they at all?
"My guess is that there are so many holes in this order that I would really describe it as less mandatory and more at this point as sort of strongly suggestive, hoping that people will go along with it," Schultz said. "But at the end of the day, I question whether you can actually enforce this in a way that you could do it with criminal penalty."
The governor’s office did not response to requests for comment.
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