EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The El Paso City Council clashed over strip clubs during the continued work session agenda that was postponed from Monday.
The city reps were divided on whether the city is doing enough to protect the community from COVID-19. They spent hours going back and forth Tuesday night having discussions and giving suggestions on shutting down some businesses in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Some reps are adamant about protecting businesses instead, and not superseding any current orders.
In regards to strip clubs, City Attorney Karla Nieman said that according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s current orders, all businesses can be open at 50 percent while practicing safety measures against the virus.
Nieman explained that the City cannot supersede those orders.
Some city reps went on to say that they’re willing to go against current orders in hopes of further protecting the community, while others said they also need to consider the effects that small business owners are facing.
“The problem that we keep running into in this conversation is that the governor has made it very clear that cities in local government and counties can’t pass ordinances or orders that are contrary to his directives and executive orders,” Nieman explained. “So us, council proposing to shut down a specific type of business that has already been open would be contrary to those orders.”
The vote to shut down strip bars ultimately failed. City Reps. Dr. Sam Morgan, Isabel Salcido, Claudia Rodriguez and Cissy Lizarraga voted against the item. Margo broke the tie vote.
City leaders have been circling around different ways of tightening enforcement in the city to slow the rapid spread of the virus.
The majority of the COVID-19 related discussions were expected to happen Monday night, however, the city council postponed them for after Tuesday’s regular meeting.
City Reps. Peter Svarzbein, Alexsandra Annello and Cassandra Hernandez sponsored majority of the COVID-19 related items set on Monday’s special meeting agenda.
Some of the other items included the use of CARE funds to promote a city-wide program involving self-swabbing and family-home swabbing efforts, increasing fines for businesses who continue violating local emergency directives, and closing down strip clubs.
“Our lack of ability to actually listen to the health experts has been hampered time and time again for the last 7 months by political leadership from the state and federal level. So our ability to actually respond by health guidance and health experts has been curtailed by actions from the governor’s office and lack of action from the federal level as well,” Svarzbein said.
Margo has continuously said that city leaders, including councilmembers, have to remember they must work within orders of the law.
“If we don’t like that law, we either vote for people that will change it or we run and try to change it ourselves. So I just want you to keep that in mind because our oath and the statutes we uphold are what is limiting our ability to do what we may want to do locally. We must work within those legal parameters,” Margo said.
On Tuesday night, Morgan motioned for the City Manager and his staff to have “broader discussions” with the County Judge and leaders since the City cannot supersede the County’s current order.