By Mayor Pam Miller
Responding to the COVID 19 crisis has been a difficult task. On one hand, some citizens have complained that the City hasn’t done enough because we haven’t closed Big Rocks Park (no orders have been issued by Governor Abbott mandating the closure of local parks). On the other hand, some complain we have done too much. We have carefully weighed the matter and have tried to balance civil liberties and public health. To achieve this balance we have looked to Dr. Vacek, our Somervell County Health Authority for guidance. At one City Council meeting when asked about closing Big Rocks Park, he stated that at the time he did not think it was necessary. He indicated that sunlight is a great sterilizer.
Dr. Vacek was also asked about gyms. He expressed concern about gyms because of all the contact surfaces and the propensity for people to cough while working out. Up to that point, the City had not approached the owner of a local gym about his enabling customers to violate Governor Abbott’s orders by keeping his facility open. After considering Dr. Vacek’s advice and after receiving a couple of complaints, the administration asked Police Chief Martin to contact the owner of the gym about closing his doors to the public. The owner complied. No citations were issued.
In recent weeks, the owner of the gym sent letters to City Administrator Leamons, members of the City Council, and myself, advertising his intention of defying Governor Abbott’s order by reopening for business on Friday, May 1st. He was asked not to do so, but did anyway. After consulting with City Attorney Pendleton, Governor Abbott’s staff, and the Attorney General’s Office, the administration determined it was on solid ground and asked Police Chief Martin to take action. It was the opinion of City staff that to make a bold statement, the gym owner wanted to be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, arrested, and jailed for his defiance of the Governor’s orders.
The City’s administration chose to take a less dramatic approach. Governor Abbott ordered the people of Texas to avoid gyms. He did not order gyms to close. On more than one occasion, by a unanimous vote, the City Council has adopted local emergency orders recognizing and affirming Governor Abbott’s orders. So, following through on those unanimous City Council votes, Police Chief Martin issued tickets to members of the public who were using the gym for violating the City’s Emergency Management Ordinance under which Governor Abbott’s orders had been adopted. Violation of that ordinance is a class C misdemeanor, which is equivalent to a traffic violation.
We do not like having to take action against local citizens and businesses, but we all know that COVID 19 is a serious virus and can have deadly results. As Mayor, I have a responsibility to protect public health and defend the most vulnerable members of our community by enforcing the City’s Ordinances and emergency orders.