Springerville, which previously had released a letter from the mayor and fire department, held a special meeting on March 20 to discuss creating an emergency proclamation. Every council member was in attendance, and while the meeting was closed to in-person attendance of the general public, a phone line was opened so that residents could listen in. In the future, the town hopes they can live-stream the council meetings as they happen.
Much of the discussion centered around how far Springerville should go in closing offices and public spaces. It was generally agreed that city offices should close to walk-in traffic, but Chief Mike Nuttal of the Springerville Police Department said that they had good enough barriers to continue to allow the public to come to the station. Other needs, such as residents needing to talk to city staff about utility assistance, will need to be done through appointments now.
Another major issue came down to the wording of the proclamation. The document is nearly identical to the proclamation made by the town of Eagar when they declared their state of emergency earlier in the month, but with a few important changes. A major point of contention was on who would remain in authority and make decisions during the crisis. Often during emergencies, mayors are given additional powers to act without the approval of the town council.
“When some people saw this proclamation, they became very nervous,” Town Manager Joe Jarvis said. “‘Are we going to have martial law?’ No.”
“That’s why there’s a council, to make these types of decisions,” Councilman Ruben Llamas said. “To allow an individual to have that power just doesn’t sit well with me.”
Once the issue was brought up, it was clear that the idea of the mayor governing without the council did not sit particularly well with others, either. After a short discussion on their options for the proclamation wording, the council agreed that, instead of the mayor having total powers during the emergency, that the proclamation would say “common council” to allow them all the ability to maintain their say on issues that arise during the emergency. The measure was then passed unanimously.
Round Valley Boys
and Girls Club
In addition to city changes, the Boys and Girls Club have decided to close for the time being.
“How are you supposed to reduce [illness] by just switching places?” Mannie Bowler for the Round Valley Boys and Girls Club said. The club has around 650 members, and the closure decision was done in coordination with the local school board.
In the meantime, the Boys and Girls Club have been posting fun educational activities on Facebook daily while deep cleaning their location and providing deliveries of their snacks for their members who need them the most. They are looking into ways they can still support the kids in the community, including possibly tutoring using apps like Skype or Zoom, “for as long as we can afford to keep staff.”
On Thursday afternoon, March 19, the city of St. Johns also issued their own state of emergency proclamation, which was similar to other nearby cities. The proclamation is significantly shorter in length than most, but it essentially gives the mayor, Spence Udall, the authority to govern through proclamation during the COVID-19 emergency. Unlike Eagar, there is no mention of penalties and specific powers, but includes “all actions necessary” and the ability to enact “all necessary regulations” in order to handle the situation as it evolves.
“We felt like it was something we needed to move on quickly,” Spence Udall, the mayor of St. Johns said. “We’re doing this so we can be reimbursed and we’re going to try to tackle the problems as they come.”
Emergency services notified the mayor that they will likely need more supplies than they are currently funded for as the pandemic continues. “So, I thought that was a pretty good reason to go ahead and declare the emergency,” Udall said.
“So far, I have to tell you, our businesses have been fantastic,” Udall said of the community response. They’ve been very understanding.”
Businesses in the city have been very proactive in their approach to the virus. Restaurants in the city had already voluntarily changed their practices before the proclamation was signed, with most closing their dining rooms.
Amber Shepard is a local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.