SOUTH PORTLAND — City Manager Scott Morelli was granted emergency powers by the City Council during an online public meeting Tuesday, giving him the authority “to protect life and property” during the coronavirus crisis.

He is now allowed to issue directives on his own, including, if necessary, restricting movement of people and vehicles in the city.

The coronavirus is forcing officials in South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough to face several new realities this week, as all but Scarborough also declared local states of emergency.

South Portland Mayor Katherine Lewis declaring a state of emergency during a virtual city council meeting this week. Area communities have begun holding virtual public meetings due to the coronavirus crisis. Sean Murphy

The South Portland City Council has unanimously extended indefinitely a declaration of emergency signed by Mayor Katherine Lewis.

Morelli assured the public there was no need for any further regulations, and he would announce any new regulations to the media and on social media.

Councilor April Caricchio noted that during a crisis such as the one created by COVID-19, Morelli needs to be able to take fast action on the city’s behalf.

“(The council) can’t act very, very quickly,” she said. “It’s much wiser to have one point person.”

All three communities are also facing the reality that for municipal business to continue, everyone, from elected leaders to the general public, will have to get used to teleconferencing software for the foreseeable future.

Recent emergency legislation signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills has granted local officials permission to hold meetings online until the crisis has passed.

All seven South Portland city councilors, along with Morelli and City Clerk Emily Scully attended Tuesday’s meeting via teleconferencing software, while members of the public also dialed in. Some attendees had to connect by telephone.

Cape Elizabeth held a similar meeting Wednesday night. While the council did not vote to grant Town Manager Matthew Sturgis emergency powers, the council did vote 6-1 to enact a declaration of emergency, lasting until May 1. The declaration mirrored a similar order the city of Portland issued earlier this week. The local order, however, removed hotels from the list of essential businesses to remain open.

One bone of contention was whether to include a shelter-in-place order. Councilor James Garvin was particularly concerned about the term not being adequately defined.

“It’s a phrase we’re throwing around without a lot of specificity,” he said.

In the end, the council added the provision: “All residents of, temporary residents, and visitors to the town of Cape Elizabeth are strongly urged to remain in their residence or place of abode except to access COVID-19 essential good and services, exercise, and dog walking.”

The measure passed by a vote of 6-1, with Garvin in opposition.

In Scarborough, Town Manager Tom Hall said officials held a virtual finance committee meeting Tuesday afternoon as a test of the teleconferencing technology. The town will hold a town council meeting online April 15, and Hall said there may be a special town council meeting as early as next week. For now, he said, all meetings will likely be held similarly to how South Portland and Cape Elizabeth are operating, with agendas going out online with instructions to the public on how to attend.

“I think it’s going to be the new normal for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Special meetings, meaning those outside the regular meeting schedule, Hall said, will likely have an agenda limited to time-sensitive matters and other urgent business.

“It’s clearly our intent to get back to town business as far as meetings go, albeit virtually,” he said.

Sean Murphy — 780-9094

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