As Cleburne continues to reopen from the COVID-19 shutdown, Mayor Scott Cain stressed that the threat of spread remains a challenge.
“For members of the community, I say if you’re more comfortable staying home at this point, stay at home,” Cain said during Tuesday’s city council meeting. “If you’re more comfortable wearing a mask, wear a mask. I’m encouraging people to be patient with one another. When you go out you’ll see some people wearing a mask and some not wearing a mask. There’s no right or wrong answer to that. We just need to have common sense and compassion going forward as we work through this.”
Council members once again voted to extend the city’s declaration of local disaster through May 26. The city several weeks ago began essentially following Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide orders and nonessential city hall staff meetings continue to be canceled until further notice.
This extension, the fifth so far, includes one difference. Any future orders issued by Cain must not be approved by a majority of the council in advance of implementation.
“I no longer need to be making decisions without the deliberative process of this council,” Cain said. “If we have something that requires an emergency order we can convene as a body, deliberate, debate and discuss those things. I think it’s time to get back to business as usual. I don’t want anyone to think I’m shirking from my duties as mayor. I’ll always put this community first. But I’m very uncomfortable with having that unilateral power and authority when we don’t need it. And I don’t think we need it at this point.”
Councilman Chris Boedeker agreed.
“We’re in the right place for this to happen now,” Boedeker said. “That’s how declarations are supposed to work. Early on we needed to act quickly to prevent further damage or disaster. It’s not that we’re through this thing now, but we at least have an idea of what’s coming.”
Cain credited the “outstanding job” on the part of city residents and officials in addressing the challenge and battling the spread of the virus.
“There will be a debate that history will have later as to whether we all overreacted and the numbers weren’t as bad as predicted,” Cain said. “Or whether we simply did such a good job in the decisions this council made, and staff made early on, and we got ahead of this and stayed ahead of it.”
Cain reiterated that the threat of COVID-19 spread exists still and urged residents to take advantage of the city’s testing facility.
“We have to continue to get word out because people are kind of getting complacent as we’re coming out of this back into business as usual,” Cain said. “We have to encourage people to utilize these tests. Especially because, as we go into next winter, this could spike up again.”
Cleburne offers free testing for Johnson County residents from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Cleburne Senior Center, 1212 Glenwood Drive behind the Cleburne Conference Center. Call 817-645-0964 to make an appointment.
Possible election change
Council members in March voted to postpone city elections, originally scheduled for May 2, to Nov. 3 in response to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cleburne now joins Abilene, Round Rock and other cities who did the same but have since experienced a change of heart, or at least a desire for more options.
Council authorized City Attorney Fritz Quast to submit a letter to Abbott on the city’s behalf requesting a new election date.
“At the time [of Abbott’s March proclamation] there were no alternatives to consider other than the Nov. 2 General Election date,” City Secretary Ivy Peterson said. “Since then, a number of Texas cities have submitted letters to Gov. Abbott requesting the option of holding a local election in either July or August.”
Among the reasons for the request are predictions that COVID-19 may spike again in winter thus making summer a safer time to hold an election as well as logistical and city budget planning considerations, Peterson said.
Council’s action is simply a request at this point. Should Abbott allow additional date options the council will then decide whether to change the date or remain with Nov. 3.
Cain seeks reelection and faces challengers John Paul “J.P.” Lowery and Tommy Molloy. Councilman Bob Kelly chose not to seek reelection. Candidate Derek Weathers sits unopposed in that race as does Councilman John Warren in his reelection bid.
Council members also voted to reappoint Municipal Court Judge Michael Kurmes to a new two-year term. Council first appointed Kurmes to his position in 2014.
Council also addressed the planned extension of Sparks Drive authorizing a right-of-way exchange with James Hardie Building Products for property needed to complete the project, which includes a special warranty deed, closing documents and closing costs at a price not to exceed $3,000.
The overall connection project will cost an estimated $3.172,000, Director of Engineering Services Cheryl Taylor said.
The design of that project, which involves about 2,000 feet of new roadway, is complete and ready to put out to bid, Taylor said.