EDINBURG, The mayors of the four biggest cities in Hidalgo County, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, and Pharr, would like more say on how to deal with COVID-19.
Mayors Jim Darling on McAllen, Richard Molina of Edinburg, Armando O’Caña of Mission, and Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, MD, of Pharr, have written to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for more powers. Specifically, they want to be able to determine the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings, and to decide whether residents should required wear facial coverings in public settings.
“We respectfully request that you allow individual cities’ mayors to make appropriate local (i.e., city by city) decisions regarding certain restrictions,” the mayors wrote, in a letter dated June 26, 2020.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville is backing the request of the mayors and has sent his own letter to Abbott. It, too, asks for more for “local control in our community’s response to the ongoing public health crisis.”
The two letters are published below.
Mayors’ Letter to Gov. Greg Abbott
Honorable Greg Abbott
Office of the Texas Governor
PO Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711
June 26, 2020
Re: Local Jurisdictions
Dear Governor Abbott,
On behalf of our citizens and ourselves, we appreciate your leadership during this difficult pandemic period in our state. You have protected Texans from this pandemic, while at the same time stayed mindful of the catastrophic and potential long-lasting effects of the economic difficulties associated with it. We look forward to working with you as we transition to the next phase of this difficult situation.
As mayors of some of the largest cities in the Rio Grande Valley, and like other areas of the state, we have recently experienced a noticeable – and, frankly, disturbing – increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in our communities. Some of this is attributable to the increased number of tests. However, medical advisors in this area also believe the increase in cases is due to increased social interaction arising from the phased reopening. We agree that this reopening is essential to the economic lives of our communities and plan to continue to work with you to see that it is done safely and responsibly.
In that regard, we respectfully request that you allow individual cities’ mayors to make appropriate local (i.e., city by city) decisions regarding certain restrictions. On June 23, 2020, you expanded local control to impose restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people. We thank you for that flexibility; however, we respectfully request that you expand local governmental ability to implement that policy even further and allow local restrictions on gathering in any location, indoor or outdoor to impose physical distancing measures. This will allow local governments to determine based on their own circumstances and data to how to slow the spread of COVID-19, which both the CDC and HHSC have both acknowledged comes in part from large gatherings.
Equally important, we ask that you allow local governments to determine whether and how to require facial coverings for members of the public. Although you have acknowledged that local governments can require businesses to require face coverings, we believe, respectfully, individual business owners are not in the position to be, in effect, “deputized” for the purpose of enforcing these provisions. This policy places both the business owner and local law enforcement in a difficult situation. Rather, local governments should be the entity that determines whether and how to require, and enforce, face coverings.
To be clear, we have no desire to see the lack of face covering “criminalized” (that is, we do not intend to impose arrest or jail sanctions for violations). However, because it is local government issuing the mandate (whether that mandate is direct or via a business owner) we believe local government should be responsible for enforcement, bot business owners.
Again, we appreciate your consideration to our request.
Mayor James E. Darling
City of McAllen
Mayor Armando O’Caña, City of Mission
Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez
City of Pharr
Mayor Richard Molina
City of Edinburg
Sen. Lucio’s Letter to Gov. Greg Abbott
June 25, 2020
The Honorable Greg Abbott
Governor, State of Texas State
Capitol, 2S 1
Austin, Texas 78711
Dear Governor Abbott:
I write to you on behalf of constituents that we represent and respectfully urge you to strengthen the state’s resolve to protect our constituents from COVID-19. With a sense of urgency, on behalf of the good people of Senate District 27, I respectfully ask you to immediately direct our state to make meaningful steps to increase our local ability to curtail the spread of the deadly corona virus.
Our local health authorities are jointly working on a daily basis on the frontlines with local health officials and their mayors and county judges to help keep our communities safe and healthy. It is irrefutable that they are best situated in knowing the severity and vigor the spread the public health threat is causing in their communities. For the sake of our constituents and families in our state, I respectfully request that you provide those in the frontlines who are fighting this life-altering virus greater resources and increased authority. It is our local officials — our local health authorities and local health departments, along with their mayors and county judges — who can best decide how to tailor the local response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their local communities. As public servants, I hope that we see eye to eye that in order to protect the lives of our local constituency, our state government in Austin should strengthen their ability, rather than restrain it. Accordingly, I join Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño — along with our local mayors — in conveying the urgent need for local control in our community’s response to the ongoing public health crisis. Again, our local governments need to be able to exercise the local authority that our Texas statutes provide them to protect and save lives in communities within their jurisdiction.
I trust that you agree that the State of Texas, as a joint partner in battling this horrible illness, can greatly support their local control efforts by furthering the effectiveness of their authority to contain the public health threat by increasing resources to communities where the negative effects of the COVID-19 outbreak is more pronounced, like our Rio Grande Valley. As the Texas Tribune reported today, the Rio Grande Valley “region’s unemployment rate in May was 17.1%, well above the statewide rate of 13%.” Just four months ago, before the COVID-19 outbreak “the Rio Grande Valley’s unemployment rate was 6.5%. The increase since shows how hard the Valley has been hit by the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic and limits on the U.S.-Mexico border crossings that fuel its retail industry.” State and national news outlets have confirmed that racial and ethnic minorities have disproportionately shouldered the negative consequence of the pandemic. That is why, I specifically ask you to strengthen the availability of state resources that help underserved communities in our state and maximize their ability to contain the virus. As our governor, I respectfully ask you to make available greater personal protection equipment (e.g., masks, gloves, sanitizer, etc.), increased free COVID-19 testing, additional financial assistance, and more resources to communities hardest hit and shouldering the brunt of the pandemic, especially to economically distressed communities and our vulnerable colonias in Rio Grande Valley.
As I have shared with you in the past, our Rio Grande Valley’s economy is dependent on cross-border commerce and trade. Clearly, our border, South Texas economy needs a carefully delineated, tailored response by our state. The emerging Hispanic population that we represent is in need for Texas to answer its call for help. Minority communities in our state, especially along our border, need your help in overcoming the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected them the most. For these reasons, I respectfully ask you to provide targeted assistance to our Rio Grande Valley communities and strengthen the state’s effort to assist them in keeping our families safe from the public health threat.
I thank you in advanced for your ongoing attention to the needs of the constituents that we represent. I look forward to working with you and your office to address the needs of our communities and to provide the specialized attention underserved regions of our state rightfully deserve.
Eddie Lucio, Jr.
State Senator, District 27
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows four Rio Grande Valley mayors signing a letter that has been sent to Gov. Greg Abbott. The mayors, from left to right, are: Ambrosio Hernandez of Pharr, Armando O’Caña of Mission, Jim Darling of McAllen, and Richard Molina of Edinburg. The four mayors held a news conference at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance before signing the letter.
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