KINGMAN — The same type of coronavirus issues and arguments that divide friends and family, communities and the nation, are becoming more evident during the twice-weekly COVID-19 management meetings conducted by the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.
A mix of politics and perspective was interspersed throughout Thursday’s meeting of the all-Republican board in Kingman.
Sup. Ron Gould insisted that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has overstepped his authority with his restriction and regulation imposing executive orders that he said he believes violate the constitution.
“I feel that the governor’s orders are arbitrary and capricious,” Gould said. “Our government response to this whole pandemic is arbitrary and capricious and has just destroyed the economy and did exactly what I feared would happen and that the cure was worse than the disease.”
There was extensive discussion about a couple of alleged non-compliant businesses and how to require them to adhere to applicable coronavirus measures. Deputy County Attorney Ryan Esplin recommended that the board rescind its Aug. 24 decision to allow employees to use a couple of county gyms while many commercial gyms remain closed.
Esplin said the county will be in a stronger legal position to compel compliance within the business community if the county doesn’t deviate from the same regulations.
Gould said he voted in support of allowing the county gyms to operate as “push back” against what he called the governor’s dictatorial edicts. Sup. Hildy Angius argued the county gyms enjoy a government exemption while the standards apply to commercial fitness centers.
“I don’t understand the big deal,” Angius said.
Sup. Gary Watson said he changed his mind about county gyms after learning enforcement action might be necessary in the commercial sector.
“Information has come forth that we have a gym business in an area other than my district and they’re operating at full capacity with little regard to trying to follow any type of protocols or safeguards,” Watson said.
Board members carefully avoided identifying the gym, but Sup. Buster Johnson provided geographic perspective, while asserting the county and the Department of Public Health have failed to act more decisively.
“From an outsider’s point of view, the health club in Mohave Valley was given special treatment to stay open for nearly a month while everyone else had to close,” Johnson said. He said it is unfair that the club in question was finally being sent a county notice of violation when non-compliance dated back to Aug. 11.
“Do we not have any adult leadership in this county?” Johnson queried.
Angius and Gould dissented in the 3-2 vote in support of Esplin’s suggestion to close the county gyms and allow them to apply to reopen, just like their commercial counterparts.
“We want to be on the same track so that we are consistent,” Esplin told the board. “It’s important that we do this because otherwise we’re out of step with what we’re asking all of the other businesses throughout the county and throughout the state to be doing.”
Board members fortified the lawful authority of the Health Department to investigate and enforce complaints about violations of COVID-19 measures. The approach involves two rounds of education and technical assistance, followed by a written notice of non-compliance.
Supervisors were advised further defiance can result in daily fines of $1,000 up to $10,000 for offending businesses, which ultimately can be subject to injunction and court-ordered closure. Johnson argued the compliance and enforcement timetables need to be expedited.
Johnson said it was fundamentally unfair for non-compliant proprietors to rake in all the business while rival businesses lose money while complying. Worse yet, Johnson noted, is that the non-compliant businesses could become centers of COVID -19 clusters that push cases up where they all have to close again.
“This board has to decide if we are in a public health emergency or not. The White House, the governor and the cities have all declared a public health crisis,” Johnson said. “Whether we like the rules or not, these are there to protect the community from an invisible virus.”
Esplin noted society must seek harmony among competing interests.
“On the one hand, we want to make sure that people are healthy, that people are safe and that people will be free from the virus,” Esplin said. “On the other hand, we also have the people whose interest is liberty, personal liberty, the interest of businesses to make a living. So you balance those.”
And walking that tight rope and seeking that balance is a challenge for everyone.
“We have a split board. Some board members are going out on their own and going to our state legislators and our leaders and are trying to manipulate or change the view of the majority of the board and it’s just caused some very emotional moments,” said Board Chairman Jean Bishop. “At the same time we have our citizens, our residents and our business owners. They’re also split as much as our board and as much as our state leaders are.
“Nobody likes this pandemic.”