City Hall

Phoenix Council Punts on Emergency Declaration Vote, Restaurant Closures Continue

Mayor Kate Gallego
Mayor Kate Gallego Joseph Flaherty
At the beginning of Wednesday, Mayor Kate Gallego's order closing restaurant dining rooms and bars in Phoenix looked like it may have been in jeopardy.

But after a three-hour meeting that was closed to the public, the Phoenix City Council decided to delay a vote on whether to ratify Gallego's proclamation.

Gallego took an extraordinary, if not unprecedented, step on Tuesday by declaring a "great emergency" in Phoenix, which gave her powers to do whatever necessary to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The only major effect as of Wednesday morning was a restriction on restaurants to only offer takeout, delivery, and drive-thru service. Bars were forced to close indefinitely.

Gallego's order followed similar decisions from mayors and governors across the country to prevent people from congregating in large groups, as per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most public officials have stated that the kind of "social-distancing" enforced by restaurant closures help slow down the spread of the coronavirus, which so far has killed nearly 9,000 people globally.

According to Phoenix city code, a mayor's emergency declaration is subject to approval by the City Council at the next meeting.

That meeting began at 4 p.m. today. As soon as the meeting began, the council voted to convene an executive session, or a closed-door meeting where council members discuss legal issues with the Phoenix city attorney. Three hours after beginning the executive session, council members and the mayor voted eight to one to delay their ratification vote until Friday.

Council member Sal DiCiccio, who has publicly criticized Gallego's declaration as "nothing short of martial law," was the sole "no" vote.

Only Council member Debra Stark explained her vote, stating that Gallego's order is critical to protecting the health care system and first responders.

In the run up to the vote, Gallego's declaration received some public support from business interest groups, including the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and Local First Arizona, as well as nonprofits like Chicanos Por La Causa and Valley of the Sun United Way.

During the executive session, U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema directed her followers to call on Council member Laura Pastor, a fellow Democrat, to support the emergency declaration. Pastor was on the fence, sources said, but it was unclear why.

"Hey Phoenix, let Laura Pastor know who you want our city to save lives. Let's  follow Monday's WH/CDC guidance. That's what they're deciding tonight in City Hall," Sinema tweeted. "It's a big deal - and in just a few weeks we will all wonder aloud why we didn't do more to save lives."

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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh