Cumby City Council Tuesday night after discussion opted not to adopt the proposed “Ordinance 2020-04-01 authorizing law enforcement officer to perform traffic stops for any violation of executive order(s) issued by the Governor of the State of Texas declaring a state of disaster,” such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ordinance, as proposed, would have given city the police department the authority to enforce the rules and regulations set forth in the the Governor’s Executive Orders. This includes “the authority to perform traffic stops and issuing tickets to individuals violating,” provided they are unable to provide to the police officer proof of exception or exemption at the time of the traffic stop. Violations, according to the proposed Cumby ordinance, would be punishable according to the Governor’s Order, with a fine up to $200.
During the meeting, conducted via Zoom conferencing, Hopkins County Emergency Management Coordinator/Fire Department Chief Andy Endsley noted that Cumby partners with the county for emergency management for disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The mayor and police chief teleconference, along with all county stakeholders, three times a week, to coordinated efforts in matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only city in Hopkins County that has its own emergency management coordinator is the City of Sulphur Springs, and they are part of the Hopkins County Emergency Management Team that daily assesses the COVID-19 situation as it relates to Hopkins County.
The Executive Order issued March 31 by Governor Abbott, along with the public health emergency disaster designation issued by Judge Robert Newsom on April 1 and extended April 6 by Hopkins County Commissioners Court, applies to the City of Cumby as well.
“You work off our basic plan. Maybe it’s an oversight, he didn’t put any fines in, if someone is out of order. If they are not going to an essential job without staying home, you can go with what the Governor said. It’s a Class B misdemeanor. The City of Cumby would not get anything out of that side of it,” Endsley said.
The county emergency management official noted that at this time, Hopkins County has had only four confirmed positive cases, although many have been tested. That is considered a small number compared to some other nearby counties. Of those, two have recovered from the virus, the County Judge Robert Newsom has reported.
A lot of people, Endsley said, are abiding by the stay at home order, not only in the city of Cumby but in Hopkins County. Endsley said continuing to follow the stay at home order, except for “essential workers” or essential activities such as medical appointments or going to the grocery store, and practicing social distancing will help reduce potential spread of COVID-19 and keep the number of coronavirus patients low in Hopkins County.
While counties and cities can’t go against the Governor’s order, they can add more stringent provisions, Endsley said.
“So, we do not really need to act on this?” Cumby Mayor Doug Simmerman asked.
“Not really. When Judge Newsom enacted it, we got you covered,” Endsley said. “I believe this was placed on agenda before you and I talked today.”
Cumby Alderman Julie Morris asked if Sulphur Springs has a law in place that would allow a police officer to stop someone driving down the street, if the officer thinks an individual is not doing the proper thing, like going to work or to the grocery store, and issue a ticket for a violation.
Endsley noted that the City of Sulphur Springs’ basic plan had been amended, but theirs is “not as broad as ours is.” He said while the Governor’s Executive Order would allow Class B misdemeanor tickets or charges to be filed for violation, “you would not really benefit from it” financially.
Endsley reiterated the safe at home order was issued by the Governor and the local declaration by the county judge and commissioners court, for people to leave home only for essential needs such as the grocery store, medical needs or employment. Most employers provide employees with information pertaining to the essential order and their jobs.
The emergency management coordinator also noted Interstate 30 running through Cumby is a major thoroughfare for not only people from Hopkins County and Texas, but other states passing through for various reasons including in the course of business as well as personal reasons, which would likely be hard to police and make determinations regarding executive orders.
When asked if the City of Cumby is planning to pull people over to ask for proof of where they are going and for what purpose, Mayor Simmerman said someone pulled over for another violation might get questioned regarding their reason for traveling during the course of the traffic stop.
Endsley said that’s the case for most law enforcement; if they ask an individual about reason for travels, it’s after being pulled over for a traffic violation or contacted for another matter. It’s “highly unlikely” an officer would ever pull someone over just to pull them over, or just to ask if they are traveling for essential or exceptional reasons, according to the emergency management coordinator.
“During normal everyday operations, law enforcement can choose to do that, can enquire about it if they wish,” Endsley said.
After discussion, Cumby City Council determined, with the county declaration in place to support the Governor’s Executive Order, no action was needed on the part of the City of Cumby city for the proposed ordinance “authorizing law enforcement officers to perform traffic stops for any violation of executive order(s) issued by the Governor of the State of Texas declaring a state of disaster; providing a penalty for violation of such executive order(s), proving a savings clause and a severability clause; and providing an effective date.”