Dallas commissioners voted today to limit County Judge Clay Jenkins’ power to unilaterally issue emergency orders in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Jenkins must now get approval from commissioners before extending his “Safer at Home” order beyond April 30 and consult with the court about any new restrictions on “essential” businesses.
Commissioners voted last Friday to extend the county’s disaster declaration through May 20, causing a backlash from residents who say their families can’t survive if Jenkins keeps the local economy shut down that long. The disaster declaration authorizes Jenkins to issue orders relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Jenkins then issued an amended stay-at-home order effective through April 30, the same date Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide executive order ends. But critics worried he would extend that order into May without consulting commissioners.
“It’s prudent for the entirety of the body to make these decisions collaboratively,” said Commissioner J.J. Koch, who proposed adding the limits to the judge’s disaster response authority.
“I’m getting my butt kicked on decisions you make on the fly,” Commissioner John Wiley Price told Jenkins. “I get no input at all.”
Price was the only “no” vote Friday against extending the declaration. Koch, the lone Republican on the court, agreed with Price but voted with the majority so he could place the declaration back on the agenda for further consideration during today’s meeting.
Commissioner Theresa Daniel said today she is also hearing from constituents about how the judge’s order negatively impacts them and chided Jenkins for excluding commissioners from decision-making.
Commissioner Elba Garcia agreed but said she wasn’t prepared to limit Jenkins’ executive power.
Jenkins said having the court meet to discuss every issue wouldn’t be workable.
“We’re not going to be able to get things done if we stop and have a two- to three-hour meeting,” he said.
Orders and information related to the coronavirus pandemic are on Dallas County’s website.