City Manager Sereniah Breland provided this update to Pflugerville City Council on May 26, which marked the third time within the past month council has regrouped virtually to discuss the city's reopening strategies during the coronavirus pandemic. It also highlighted council's conflicting thoughts on reopening city facilities—namely, how soon and to what extent.
At the end of council's May 26 meeting, the city opted to authorize fishing, green space usage and the operation of small boats at Lake Pflugerville, effective immediately. In the meantime, public use of pavilions, playgrounds, restroom facilities and the beach remain temporarily closed.
Breland said her team is navigating policy ideas on when city staff can return to work safely. Included in those safety provisions, Breland added, is wearing face masks while in public facilities.
As of May 26, she said the city does not have an anticipated opening date for the Pflugerville Public Library, Pflugerville Recreation Center and other city-owned facilities. With Travis County's stay-at-home order still in effect through June 15, Breland said she is not in favor of reopening strategies prior to mid-June.
Mayor Pro Tem Omar Peña said with 100 cars at the lake and residents fishing without authorizations, he was in favor of reopening the lake in its entirety. Due to Gov. Greg Abbott's May 7 executive order that prohibited jail time and prosecutions due to stay-at-home order violations, Peña said the city has been severely limited in its ability to regulate and enforce public facility closures. Breland previously said May 21 that the only criminal violations residents could be cited for is trespassing.
Council Member Rudy Metayer said he understood Peña's sentiments but hesitated at reopening pavilions, which can be regulated by city staff through caution tape or fencing.
Peña said residents will do what they want to do and cautioned council not to step out of line of Travis County's provisions. He pointed to the county's park openings that offer limited hours of availability and closures of athletic fields, water fountains, pavilions and camping. Peña said as long as Pflugerville does not present stricter provisions than the county, it would be the most consistent and ideal scenario.
Metayer said he sympathized with citizens confused by the different regulations between city and county jurisdictions. City staff, he said, is trying their best to navigate the unprecedented situation as best as possible. Council Member Mike Heath echoed Metayer's sentiments.
"We're just like everybody else—this is our first pandemic," Heath said.
Council Member Jim McDonald deviated from Peña's standpoint and said it is the responsibility of municipal leaders to create rules beneficial to the entire community. McDonald said it is irresponsible for the city to give up and only do whatever county and state regulations suggest.
He said while Pflugerville's restrictions have varied from state and county rulings, it has been done through "prudent discussions" hosted by council and staff.
Council Member Doug Weiss pointed to the divergence between the two messages floated by council: The desire to be in lockstep with Travis County while also advocating for opening up all city facilities. Weiss said the city cannot operate as a free-for-all, especially as the county's stay-at-home order is still in place.
However, Council Member Jeff Marsh said residents need to be able to be trusted to do the right thing and self-enforce social distancing. With outdoor exercise allowed and encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Marsh said he was fully supportive of reopening facilities.
"Because we open things up doesn't mean people are going to be licking the monkey bars, y'all," Marsh said.
From a staffing perspective, though, Breland said she was in favor of a phased approach. The city is not in the clear until the county's June 15 order expiration, she said. Mayor Victor Gonzales said the city needs a balance between trusting residents to be responsible while also acknowledging the coronavirus will not be disappearing any time soon.
Following the discussion, council agreed to allow Breland and Gonzales to head upcoming decisions on the city's phased reopening plan.