Cedar Park council members stir up social media response after attending Capitol protest

Cedar Park City Council Members Mel Kirkland (left) and Dorian Chavez (right) and Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale (center) answer questions from the public during the council chat town hall event March 6, 2019. (Courtesy city of Cedar Park)
Cedar Park City Council Members Mel Kirkland (left) and Dorian Chavez (right) and Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale (center) answer questions from the public during the council chat town hall event March 6, 2019. (Courtesy city of Cedar Park)

Cedar Park City Council Members Mel Kirkland (left) and Dorian Chavez (right) and Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale (center) answer questions from the public during the council chat town hall event March 6, 2019. (Courtesy city of Cedar Park)

Cedar Park City Council Members Dorian Chavez and Tim Kelly attended the April 18 "You Can't Close America" rally at the Texas Capitol, drawing mostly critical feedback from Cedar Park residents and fellow council members.

Kelly told Community Impact Newspaper he and Chavez attended the protest for Reopen Texas, which supports reopening the American economy and easing coronavirus-related restrictions. The protest began at noon at the Texas State Capitol and, according to social media posts and photographs, largely defied social distancing requirements by Travis County and the state. The event follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 17 announcement to begin gradually reopening the state’s businesses.

Chavez, Kelly and other Cedar Park council members commented online between April 17-19 about Chavez and Kelly's attendance. The sometimes harsh comments were communicated through personal, yet public, Facebook profiles.

Chavez and Kelly said they attended the protest as private citizens. Kelly said it is his civic duty to promote and defend constitutional rights.

"My oath of service is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the rights granted therein," Kelly wrote in the email to Community Impact Newspaper.


Kelly said a majority of emails, calls and texts he received about his attendance at the rally were positive and supported his actions.

"I fully appreciate the opinions of those who are not happy," Kelly said. "I will continue to defend their right to voice their opinions and decisions."

Most of the comments criticized Kelly and Chavez. Some commenters called for recalls after breaking county orders. A few thanked the council members for supporting the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and peaceful gatherings.

In an April 19 Facebook post on Not Dorian Chavez’s Cedar Park City Council Page, Chavez responded to Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale’s earlier post that apologized for Chavez and Kelly’s actions and protest attendance.

“After viewing the Mayor's post today apologizing for Councilman Kelly and myself for exercising our constitutional right to assembly, I would like to give a couple of my own words,” Chavez wrote. “First, Mayor, don't feel the need to apologize for me. Exercising our God-given constitutional rights is not something I believe you need to apologize for me or any other patriotic God-fearing American!"

Chavez also wrote multiple times he apologizes for Van Arsdale's past actions and alleged Van Arsdale lied to his constituents during the past election by slandering conservative candidates.

"I apologize that the Mayor's little sidekick, Councilman Mel Kirkland has adopted the Mayor's behavior in lying to his constituents," Chavez wrote.

Kelly shared Chavez’s post and added a local sign shop owner thanked the two council members for the action. Kelly also criticized Van Arsdale and Mel Kirkland, the Place 2 council member and mayor pro tem.

Unlike Kelly, Chavez did not respond to questions submitted by Community Impact Newspaper.



Van Arsdale said in an April 20 interview with Community Impact Newspaper that everyone is free to enact their important constitutional rights, but the two elected officials should have considered their Cedar Park residents while in downtown Austin, which is what set citizens off on social media.

Van Arsdale said some residents want the two council members quarantined, prosecuted, sued, chastised or recalled, according to messages the mayor has seen.

He said the council members should apologize to their residents for their "selfish actions."

"It's very frustrating to have to peel off and devote energy and time into this sideshow," he said.

He said Cedar Park has the best recovery rate out of all local municipalities because of residents' social distancing and caution. He said attending rallies could worsen the city's case numbers and make the reopening period longer.

Van Arsdale’s April 19 post, which apologized for Chavez and Kelly’s protest attendance, received comments that mostly thanked the mayor for his leadership. Several commenters scolded Van Arsdale for not supporting people’s right to protest.



In his Facebook post, Van Arsdale began by thanking health care professionals, first responders, law enforcement, nonprofits and volunteers for their contributions.

“I want to personally apologize to them and their families for their efforts being undermined yesterday by two of our council members, whose actions—violating state and county COVID orders by recklessly exposing themselves and our residents by attending a mass gathering in our worst regional COVID hotspot and coming back to our community—do NOT reflect the heart of Cedar Park,” Van Arsdale said in the post.

Kelly posted a photo of himself and Chavez at the event on his public Facebook page on April 18. Neither council member is wearing a respiratory mask in the photo. Travis County ordered all Austin-Travis County residents over the age of 10 to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth when out in public for most activities, as of April 13. According to the order, masks must be worn while outside when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

Kelly said in his email that protesters were "maintaining acceptable distances" even though they passed by others within two feet.

The next Cedar Park City Council meeting will be on April 23 via teleconference.
By Taylor Girtman

Reporter, Cedar Park and Leander

Taylor Girtman became the reporter for the Cedar Park-Leander edition in February 2020. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida.