Phoenix-Area Cities Raise Questions, Grant Power Over Coronavirus

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 9:42pm
Updated: Thursday, March 19, 2020 - 6:20pm

Phoenix City Hall
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix City Hall.

After a 3.5-hour meeting behind closed doors Wednesday night, the Phoenix City Council put off voting on the mayor’s emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. 

Some council members had questions about what kind of enforcement action should be taken against businesses that do not follow Mayor Kate Gallego’s declaration. On Tuesday, she asked restaurants and bars to avoid dine-in business and shift to takeout, delivery and drive-through only models.

After meeting in executive session to get legal advice, the council skipped a planned vote on whether to confirm the declaration. Instead, the council voted to meet again this Friday to further discuss the declaration and rules for businesses.

Annie DeGraw, communications director for Gallego, told KJZZ that a 72-hour grace period is in effect until 8 p.m. Friday. That means bars and restaurants who fail to comply or are unaware of the declaration could be contacted by police who will explain the rules. After the grace period, DeGraw said there could be fines.

“Based on ratification, which hopefully comes through Friday, it would most likely be a misdemeanor fine,” she said. “That’s a last resort. Our hope is that most folks will fall in line with this and that won’t be necessary.”

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Gallego said "At this point, we are not only battling the virus, we are battling time. For every moment of inaction, we will unfortunately pay the price with the lives of residents." 

Also late Wednesday, four members of the Phoenix council: Laura Pastor, Betty Guardado, Michael Nowakowski and Carlos Garica issued a joint statement saying leadership requires trust from all parties. Here's a portion of the statement:

"Tonight, we voted to have a larger conversation on something that has the power to gravely impact our city. To declare a 'Great Emergency' is to put one person solely in charge of all decisions, specifically the Mayor. A 'Great Emergency' does not give a voice to those that truly need it."

The group said it asked the mayor and council to declare a state of 'Local Emergency' so the council can maintain authority to participate in managing the crisis, specifically to work collectively on a plan that includes:

  • Public transportation.
  • Relief funds for residents, specifically the elderly and other vulnerable populations.
  • Immediate emergency assistance for small businesses.
  • Worker and employee protections.
  • Work with federal, state, and county delegations to secure our fair share of funding.

The four members said bars should remain closed and restaurants should continue to limit service to takeout, drive-through service and delivery.

Glendale's Declaration

While Phoenix council members were discussing Gallego’s declaration, the mayor of Glendale issued a proclamation Wednesday night declaring a local emergency. In a written statement, Jerry Weiers called on the business community to meet or exceed federal and state health guidelines.

He asked Glendale’s restaurants and bars to either stop dine-in service or institute appropriate social distancing measures. 

“We have always had a great relationship with our business community, and I am confident that they will do the right thing, as they always have,” Weiers said. “However, please know that if they are not responsive to the clear guidelines that have been established, I will be forced to take more significant measures that will leave them with no choice. “

He also requested seniors, particularly those 70 years and older, self-quarantine for their own protection. He called on leaders from the faith-based community to develop and provide a plan and volunteers to serve the needs of Glendale seniors who self-quarantine.

A Glendale spokesperson told KJZZ that city ordinance does not require the council to approve or confirm the mayor’s declaration and it is in effect until the mayor rescinds. 

Tempe Ordinance

Also on Wednesday, the Tempe City Council approved an ordinance declaring an extraordinary local emergency citywide. The action authorizes the mayor to enact necessary emergency response measures via proclamation during the duration of an emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic.

“The council moved forward on the emergency declaration in the event that further action is needed,” Mayor Mark Mitchell said. “Any action taken would be done after thoughtful deliberation and would be in line with the recommendations of state and federal agencies for the safety of the residents of Tempe and the public at large. Stemming the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus is our highest priority.”

Late Thursday morning, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell issued a proclamation ordering bars, in-restaurant dining and recreational and entertainment venues to close effective 8 pm. He also ordered Tempe gyms and fitness studios to close as of 1 p.m.

→ Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease 

One Source, My Connection!