Mayor Nancy Vaughan’s emergency declaration on Nov. 20 that Greensboro would start active enforcement of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders didn’t mean much.

The emergency order did get Vaughan an invitation to make a special guest appearance at Cooper’s televised press conference on Nov. 23, but as far as enforcing anything, it didn’t.

Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 5:18 p.m., “Item 12” was added to the agenda for the 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting. Item 12 amended the city ordinances on nuisances, giving the city the authority to enforce Cooper’s executive orders with civil penalties.

The ordinance gives any city employee the authority to cite people for violation of the executive orders, and the fine for exceeding the COVID-19 occupancy limits is $100 for each person over the limit.

Councilmember Justin Outling objected, not to the ordinance itself, which he said he agreed with and which he voted for, but in the way it was proposed.

He said, “Given the fact that it was provided to us 15 minutes before the meeting without any public input, as a matter of process I do think it is lacking.”

Vaughan said, “People are extremely pleased with the conditions put in place.”

Outling said, “The reality is that the public should have had the opportunity to see the specific language in this specific ordinance.”

After the meeting Outling said, “My understanding is the ordinance was required to actually issue the fines under the executive order. It wasn’t in effect all that time because the council hadn’t passed an ordinance to allow her to do it.”

So on Nov. 22, Vaughan issued an emergency declaration stating that the city was going to begin fining those who violated the governor’s executive orders and on Dec. 1 the City Council passed the ordinance that gives the city the authority to actually start issuing those fines.

When Vaughan made the emergency declaration, Outling said that it was heavy on symbolism. It turns out it was even heavier on symbolism than Outling indicated at the time, because Vaughan didn’t yet have the power to send city employees out to enforce her emergency order.

Reportedly, no one in the city has been fined for violating the governor’s executive orders on wearing masks and the reduced occupancy because, despite Vaughan’s emergency order, the city didn’t yet have the legal right to issue such fines.

Now that the city has that authority, it may start sending out city employees to issue fines to those in violation.