By Veronica Perry
On Wednesday, April 29, Frank Zerunyan discussed how local governments are managing the ongoing pandemic in their communities, touching on the U.S. and California constitutions, as well as California law. Zerunyan holds a doctorate in law, is a professor of the practice of governance at USC Price, and serves as the director of executive education and of ROTC military programs. A trained lawyer, he also served as mayor and council member of the city of Rolling Hills Estates for over 17 years. He was a gubernatorial appointee to the Medical Board of California during the Schwarzenegger administration.
Zerunyan began with the 10th amendment. Although the federal constitution does not mention cities or communities, he explained, power is still intended to pass to the people through each state. He explained this assertion by saying, “I am extremely biased towards a very localized form of government. I believe firmly that the most effective and efficient form of government is the one that is closest to the people that it serves.” Zerunyan explained Constitutional police powers of the state, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s support of these powers during a declared “state of emergency.”
Zerunyan also touched on California’s Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Act, which allows investigations, quarantine, isolation and other measures to be taken during a pandemic. He emphasized the importance of collaboration with government partners such as utility companies and waste management firms as well as maintaining contact with significant stakeholders. “Labor in your cities – for example, chambers of commerce, organizations that deal with seniors, in particular, the most vulnerable here in this pandemic – are the responsibility of our local governments, and most importantly, of course, our citizens, the people who live in our communities, whom we serve.”
Public fears have metastasized due to a combination of uncertainty and inaccurate communications concerning the pandemic, he shared. “It’s time for us to be able to do what is necessary, and that is to educate. So, informing your residents regularly with information from the state, the county, health professionals, the scientific world, and some of the great work that our scientists are doing,” he said. He urged listeners to rely on science and data, pointing to Neeraj Sood’s random sampling studies.
In the months to come, Zerunyan noted that he expects to see an increase in lawsuits from both local governments and individuals, especially if “Stay at Home” orders remain in place while known risks diminish. “We live in a Constitutional Republic,” he said. “Balancing the public health interest to constitutional ‘natural’ rights is critical in this context.” However, Zerunyan stated that he believes the majority of governments are developing customized models to reopen economies safely and decrease public health and legal risks.
At the end of the talk, questions touched on misconceptions about governmental action and powers, domestic abuse or child maltreatment during isolation, state bankruptcy, the slow reopening of cities, rent payments, partnerships in assisting marginalized students, preparation for an unexpected spike in COVID-19 cases, timelines for regaining regularity, consistency in reporting information and management of executive orders. Zerunyan’s complete discussion is accessible on YouTube, and highlights of the talk can be viewed be here. Remember to register for upcoming Price Talks to hear policy experts address essential topics and questions surrounding the ongoing effects of COVID-19.
Professor of the Practice of Governance
Director, Executive Education
Director of ROTC Programs