Citizens in Fredericksburg are enjoying a victory after fighting city hall over an “Orwellian” coronavirus mandate violation reporting program that sought to turn neighbor against neighbor.
ClickFix is an online tool used by many local governments to let citizens report various nuisances or issues to the city, such as potholes, trash, abandoned vehicles, and sidewalk damage.
And that’s how several cities—such as Austin, Dallas, and Houston—have been using the program.
But recently, the city of Fredericksburg retooled the program so citizens could report on violations of coronavirus mandates. A business allowing patrons without masks? Report it. Too many people in the neighborhood coffee shop? Report it.
A similar 311-like COVID reporting program was floated earlier this year in Frisco, but it was quickly shut down after mass citizen outrage.
Fredericksburg City Manager Kent Meyers didn’t appear to think it would be an issue with local residents.
“Instead of having these phone calls and emails going to various city offices, we have a portal on our city website called a request tracker where citizens can register their concerns on our website for high weeds, illegal signs—any concerns they have,” Myers told KXAN. “So, we just added COVID-19 as an additional concern that our citizens can report on.”
Members of the city council would find out, however, just how big of an issue it was.
During the council’s most recent meeting, business owners and everyday citizens showed up en masse to voice their opposition.
“This Orwellian tool is an online hotline neighbors can use to turn in their neighbors they believe are not complying with the mandates,” said local activist Tonya Benson, imploring the council and mayor to take action and take down the reporting tool.
Citizens spent hours testifying, with raucous applause after each speaker. The meeting room was at capacity before the meeting started, forcing some attendees to wait outside the building until it was their turn to speak.
On Thursday, citizens may have gotten their wish, as the city quietly removed the tool from their website.
“I’ve always heard that you can’t beat city hall, but the citizens of Fredericksburg just did,” said Matt Long, a leader of the Fredericksburg Tea Party and local radio host.
“Our voices can and do make a difference.”