PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is telling cities and counties to fully open their parks to all comers this Easter weekend or face consequences.
In a sharply worded letter Friday, the governor told Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego that the decision of Phoenix to close city parks Saturday and Sunday to large gatherings violates state law. That goes to Ducey’s argument that he has assumed some absolute powers when he declared an emergency. And those powers allow him to order reopening of parks and other facilities
Beyond that, the governor said his order is consistent with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ignoring those recommendations, Ducey said, is “irrational.’’
The letter was not just a complaint. The governor said that, based on his emergency powers, he is “demanding’’ the city open its parks.
But this is bigger than a spat between the Republican governor and the Democratic mayor. Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said Friday that all communities have to have their parks fully open this weekend, with no restrictions.
And if they do not?
“All options are on the table,’’ Karamargin said.
So far, though, Tucson is keeping its already announced Easter restrictions at city parks. That includes closure of the large ramadas and required masks where physical distancing is not possible.
Ducey is doing more than saber rattling. He also is setting the stage to have someone to blame if there is a post-Easter increase in COVID-19 cases.
The governor argued that, in keeping large family gatherings out of parks, Phoenix was in effect pushing them inside where the chance of spread of the COVID-19 virus is greater. In doing that, the governor said, Phoenix was “condemning people to their homes’’ which will further the spread of the virus.
What Ducey did not say in his letter is that, open parks or not, there already are indications of a “fourth wave’’ of the virus, including in Arizona, especially with the virus mutating into new, more transmissible strains.
Gallego, who has crossed swords with Ducey over other COVID-related issues like mask mandates, responded later Friday with her own slap at the governor. She pointed out that the decision that the issue Ducey is choosing to make an issue of right before the holiday weekend is hardly new.
“It is no surprise, given how slowly you respond to changing events, that only now do you have an opinion about a unanimous bipartisan decision the Phoenix City Council made several weeks ago,’’ she wrote back to the governor. Gallego said that March 16 plan to limit large gathering by closing parking lots and prohibiting public grilling was based on “evidence-based recommendations’’ to the council.
So what the city did is close parking lots and prohibit grilling, both ways of deterring large crowds.
“These measures have been widely publicized since they were enacted several weeks ago,’’ Gallego wrote.
Politics and health issues aside, the mayor also said the governor is legally wrong on his authority.
“You misread your own executive orders, of which, admittedly, there have been many,’’ Gallego said. She pointed out that one of his orders, still in effect, spells out that cities and counties are free “to control their own properties’’ and “to set and enforce mitigation policies.’’
“The city of Phoenix and its residents — not the governor of Arizona — own and operate the city parks at issue here,’’ Gallego said.
As to those CDC recommendations, the mayor acknowledged the latest guidelines tell people that if they plan to celebrate with others that outside is safer than indoors. But that, Gallego said, is cherry picking what the agency said.
“The same guidance you selectively cite begins with recommendations that people ‘gather virtually’ or ‘with people who live with you,’ ‘’ the mayor said. It is only after listing more recommendations does the CDC say that if people do plan to celebrate that outdoors is better than indoors.
And there’s something else.
“That same guidance goes on to reiterate the need to ‘wear a mask indoors and outdoors,’ ‘’ Gallego wrote, a point the governor did not include in his letter to her. And this is even as Ducey not only dissolved any orders for mask wearing at certain businesses but also withdrew the authority of local governments to have their own mask mandates.
“This crisis has made clear to all of Arizona that you put partisan politics ahead of saving lives,’’ the mayor wrote. “It is also no surprise that you have expressed your opinion in a partisan, divisive way rather than in a genuine effort to keep our residents safe.’’