It cannot be overstated that this pandemic is to be taken seriously and that we, as communities and a state, must work together to beat COVID-19. The public health order from the governor is not to be dismissed, and we all must take our personal health and the health of others seriously.
To be commended are our front-line workers that have shown up daily to provide essential services to their fellow community members, workers all too frequently overlooked in the past that have emerged as the true guardian angels of our communities and the economy. Store clerks, postal workers, municipal employees, police, fire, EMS, construction, countless others and of course the health care workers that have taken on this battle with fearless resolve.
That being said, New Mexicans should not place them in the uncomfortable position of now having to be enforcers of the governor’s public health order. They have worked for us; now let’s work for them and wear a face covering when situations necessitate going out. No essential worker, including police, want to be the one to ask you to wear a face covering, but they are placed in that position when you don’t wear one.
From the onset of COVID-19, mayors and local leaders from across the state have engaged this fight head-on by educating citizens on social distancing, appropriate hygiene, working one-on-one with local businesses and constituents. Cities, towns and villages across the state moved rapidly to adopt local heath emergency orders to help with enforcement and compliance with national and state health orders.
It was very surprising and off-putting when the governor wrote in a July 8 op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal that she had “sought partners at every opportunity — and received few” and “local governments and public safety agencies have passed the buck.” When it comes to local government, there is no passing the buck. Local leaders must deal with these issues head-on and lead in a way we believe best serves our individual communities.
In recent discussions with the Governor’s Office and with the governor herself, significant concern was raised by municipal governments about the enforceability of certain components of the governor’s public heath order. Local communities have repeatedly requested information on the legal authority of municipalities to enforce and even fine and incarcerate citizens for violating such.
The most recent request to the governor herself, from her appointed task force, was on July 2 wherein an appeal for an attorney general opinion was made by the task force and promised by the governor. On July 3 at 5:03 p.m. via email to the task force and presumably others, a gubernatorial directive was issued requiring local police to enforce the public health order face covering provision, but no AG opinion. On July
7 a mysterious letter from the AG dated July 3 appeared on Twitter supporting the governor’s stance but fell short of a formal opinion issuance. On July 8 the Albuquerque Journal published the governor-issued op-ed wherein the AG’s letter was referenced. Later that morning at 9:05 a.m., a copy of the AG letter was supplied to the task force and presumably others.
Municipal leaders have an obligation to question laws and directives they are asked to enforce. Requesting clarification and legal backing is not “passing the buck” – it is called due diligence.
The governor in her op-ed additionally took the unprecedented approach of threatening to remove local elected officials from office. It is unclear how she would approach this, either by asserting executive authority or using political influence, but regardless, it is inappropriate to say the least. Local nonpartisan elected officials should not be threatened when (leaders are) merely asking questions.
The governor’s op-ed painted with a broad brush and did a disservice to those on the front line fighting this pandemic. Local leaders including police chiefs, mayors, city councilors, city/county managers and county commissioners alike are committed to ensuring the health and safety of our communities, and that includes protecting the rights of our citizens from punishments not supported by laws and authority.
We, the local leaders of our communities, are members of our communities that are fortunate enough to have been chosen to serve as leaders. Our constituents are our neighbors, family members and friends. There are none we care for more.
Sam Cobb, mayor of Hobbs
The letter was also signed by the following mayors:
Stephen Aldridge – Jal
Billy Hobbs — Eunice
Dale Janway — Carlsbad
Dennis Kintigh — Roswell
Mike Morris — Clovis
Lynn Crawford — Ruidoso
Linda Calhoun — Red River
Dave Venable — Cloudcroft
Nate Duckett — Farmington
Neil Segotta — Raton
Javier Sanchez — Española
Edna Trager — Elephant Butte
Nathan Dial — Estancia
Cynthia Atencio — Bloomfield
Ted Hart — Moriarty
Jerah Cordova — Belen
Gregg Hull — Rio Rancho