Taylor remains under a disaster declaration as local events are examined.
On June 25, the Taylor City Council voted unanimously to extend the declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously extended on a monthly basis, the city’s measure is now set to expire when Gov. Greg Abbott’s state disaster declaration ends.
Abbott recently extended the Texas’ disaster declaration by proclamation. The governor has issued monthly extensions since the declaration was first issued in March.
“To keep in concert with the state is recommended,” said City Manager Brian LaBorde, “so we can take … advantages that the governor is handing down for cities that are still in a disaster declaration.”
The declaration gives the city authority and extends the mayor’s power to take necessary measures they think are needed to keep the community safe. It also allows the city to apply for funding and relief.
“This virus is going to be with us for at least another year or more, and I don’t see things getting any better, so as far as the declaration goes, I would make it open ended and take the governor’s lead,” said Councilmember Mitch Drummond.
The full discussion on the disaster declaration can be played below. Topics also included local gatherings and use of city parks.
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With powers allowed by the declaration, the mayor recently closed certain park facilities. Taylor Youth Baseball Softball Association’s Andrew Gonzales spoke about issues he and the organization had with that order, particularly what he perceived to be inconsistencies.
“I’m not here to debate whether that was a good idea or not,” said Gonzales on the closures. “We would just like some clarity on it because it did affect us.”
On the morning that the league was to open up with games, teams found out they couldn’t use the fields.
“We’re curious to see why we weren’t allowed the same opportunity to use the facilities like other events in town are currently using,” said Gonzales.
He also asked for the council to come up with a communications plan that would inform organizations affected by similar policy changes in a timely manner. Gonzales noted that such changes could help him and others in planning for the future.
“There is a financial burden that we’re looking at because of the decision to close down the parks,” added Gonzales.
The mayor noted that the perception only some groups weren’t allowed to use the parks stems from confusion on what exactly is closed. For example, citizens are still allowed in open spaces at local parks, so groups have been utilizing those areas.
“I think there was some miscommunications on social media about parks being closed, ‘all parks are ordered closed,’ which was not the case,” said Mayor Brandt Rydell, “and I could see where people would think, ‘Well, this doesn’t make sense. We can’t play baseball, but people were still using other aspects of the park.’”
Deputy City Manager Jeff Jenkins also explained that per the governor’s order, sports practices have still been allowed. The city has been following suit, which is why baseball teams and Lone Star Soccer have practiced on local fields.
“The reasons why practices are easier to do is there’s a limitation on number of people that usually attend practices, because you’re not going to have a crowd that is going to go to watch a practice typically,” said Jenkins, “and then there’s a lot of social distancing as far as practicing.”
The council also addressed the Juneteenth celebration held June 19 at Fannie Robinson Park. The event took place near a baseball field — a closed facility — but was in an open space.
“We would close park facilities, but open space remains available for use and enjoyment of the public, and there were no limitations of the governor that said in terms of large gatherings outside of the 500 that, as I mentioned before, the county judge or mayor could impose additional restrictions,” said Rydell, although the mayor noted that Abbott recently ordered events above 100 people must be approved by local governments.
“Did I mind if they played baseball? Absolutely not,” said Councilmember Gerald Anderson, who helped with the Juneteenth celebration, “but the decision was made. You stand by your decision, and I stand by your decision."
The mayor also explained that since the Taylor Farmers Market is providing an essential service as deemed by the state, that event is allowed to happen.
"(Taylor Farmers Market) is providing an essential service of food in an open air environment for a lot of folks who are afraid to go to grocery stores because folks aren't wearing masks, as they prefer to go to open-air farmer's markets to get their foods," said Rydell.
Mayor Pro-Tem Dwayne Ariola reiterated earlier in the evening that the decision to issue the disaster declaration was the right decision and commended the mayor’s efforts. However, Ariola said he would have preferred to be told about the parks decision ahead of time.
“(The mayor) is not required to contact council on these decisions prior to making the decision, and that’s okay. However, I would’ve personally liked to have been told of his decision from he or staff prior to getting phone calls from concerned parents, constituents seeing it on Facebook,” said Ariola. “But in that same breath, if he does call us individually and discusses our thoughts, I think it’s a ‘walking quorum,’ and that’s not allowed. He did what he was suppose to do in between council meetings.”
The mayor pro-tem also wanted some clarity on data from the Williamson County and Cities Health District (WCCHD) — particularly on hospitalizations and available care — to make sure there was a proper gauge of the local effect and stress of COVID-19. Earlier this month, Taylor officials had a call with WCCHD and received new figures from the health district. The mayor made his decision on the parks shortly thereafter.
“We were prepared to reopen park facilities and to proceed, and we had this idea all along that maybe by the end of June, we could get things opened back up again,” said Rydell. “It was not a matter if (WCCHD) had some concerns, they were ringing alarm bells of what they were seeing.”
WCCHD's update to the council from Thursday can be played below.
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The council also discussed the city's Fourth of July events, which were still scheduled as of Thursday’s meeting, and events thereafter. Ariola and Councilmember Robert Garcia expressed support of the annual fireworks display hosted by the American Legion Post 39.
"I 100% agree that should occur. If the council agrees that Murphy Park should be closed, then while I don't agree with that, that's fine, but we live in the greatest country in the world, and that is our Independence Day," said Ariola. "I think Fourth of July fireworks should happen. That's my opinion."
Although Garcia also favored fireworks, he had some thoughts on other events and possibly mandating masks.
"If everybody would wear the mask and practice social distancing and actually do it, then we wouldn't have to do this," said Garcia in regards to current restrictions, "but I'm considering doing a required mask in the city limits of Taylor and also to cancel future events that are above 50 or more people at this time — and that is for you know organizations, nonprofits and just in general — and for more clarification across if we're going to do all parks are closed or not."
The mayor noted that the governor's orders currently only allows municipalities to prohibit all events more than 100. With masks, Abbott's orders are little more complex.
"We are prohibited by the governor's order from enforcing against individuals in terms of mask wearing," said Rydell. "What the governor has approved and provided a path for was for local governments to impose requirements on commercial businesses to require them to post a notice that their customers are required to wear face coverings within that commercial business and are not able to maintain a six-foot physical distance, and then it's on the business to police that on the customer."
Drummond stressed for Taylor to continue with caution.
"We are going through a historic pandemic right now that we have not seen in 100 years. This is not business as usual," said Drummond. "We need to protect this community. I have a lot of elderly constituents that I deliver meals to, that I visit with and they're scared. Everybody's concerned about this. We need to do everything we can to keep these numbers down, and if it requires us to cancel the fireworks and to cancel the ballparks, yes, we need to do that."
The mayor issued an executive order on Friday canceling the city's fireworks display for July 4. Click here for more information