North Texas Daily

Denton City Council extends disaster declaration, rejects potential mask mandate

Denton City Council extends disaster declaration, rejects potential mask mandate

Denton City Council extends disaster declaration, rejects potential mask mandate
April 01
10:30 2021

As the Denton City Council updated its COVID-19 policy over the past two weeks, attempts to explore a citywide mask mandate failed, leaving businesses to handle regulation of their policies.

In the wake of Gov. Greg  Abbott’s executive order reopening Texas and rescinding mask mandates, cities across the state have responded to the changes in various ways. Austin and the surrounding Travis County continue to require masks and, as a result, are being sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton. When Denton’s own mask mandate was suggested, city staff weighed the safety of residents over the risk of legal action from the state.

“My concern is about workers and customers, but also workers who don’t have a choice, at business where there is no mask policy,” Councilmember Deb Armintor said. “I’m watching the city of Austin very closely.”

As of March 26, a district judge has allowed Austin to continue to require masks as the state continues to pursue legal action. Denton City Attorney Aaron Leal warned the council against instating its own ordinance, advising the city would be sued. Council member Jesse Davis and Mayor Gerard Hudspeth said a potential lawsuit was their reasoning for opposition.

However, Armintor told the North Texas Daily there is nothing in state, federal or city law that prevents Denton from updating its health codes.

“It’s weird that it’s controversial,” Armintor said. “City council should be concerned with public health.”

Armintor was supported only by Councilmember Paul Meltzer, who said “if it’s not unconstitutional to try [for a mask mandate] […] I would be interested.” However, Armintor’s request to discuss a mask mandate failed to receive the required majority support of four councilmembers.

“The city continues to strongly urge everyone to follow the guidance and participate in getting us to a safe conclusion,” Meltzer told the Daily. “But, we’re now very much relying on each other to make that happen.”

Businesses are still able to require masks and were provided by city staff with three different versions of signs to post on their property. Denton will not take action against the various local establishments with signage stating the municipality requires face coverings, as Hudspeth said they “are terribly busy and are likely working with reduced staffing.”

In the event of patrons who do not comply with business policies and refuse to leave, businesses can contact the police in what Chief of Staff Sarah Kuechler called “a last resort.”

“We encourage businesses to have a plan for communication and enforcement of their store policy,” Kuechler said. “If the police department is called, the primary goal of the officers will be education and seeking voluntary compliance. If that is not successful and the business wishes to issue a criminal trespass, then the police department can issue a trespass notice.”

Despite its division over mask ordinances, the council unanimously voted to extend its declared state of local disaster to June 30, 2021.

The extension will allow the city to continue to receive federal and state funds to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. A budget Kuechler presented showed that the city’s highest pandemic-related expenditures included homeless care, non-profit support and utility assistance programs.

“New funds are made available through this most recent federal relief bill […] but we need [the disaster declaration] in place [as] a vehicle for that,” Hudspeth said. “I am all for getting that relief to our citizens, so this is necessary for that component.”

Courtesy City of Denton

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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