Fort Worth mayoral candidate Mattie Parker and city council candidate Zeb Pent join Councilmember Cary Moon in addressing citations issued by the city for not following government restrictions related to the Chinese coronavirus. Citizens were cited not only for opening their businesses, but also for feeding the homeless.
An open records request sent by Texas Scorecard revealed the city issued 66 COVID citations last year. “Our government should be focused on the reopening and restarting of businesses, not punishing and penalizing them,” Pent told Texas Scorecard.
Pent said the business owners of any businesses that had to pay fines “should be reimbursed immediately.”
“The biggest problem with the ordinance was it penalized business owners for individual customers not wearing masks or social distancing,” Parker told Texas Scorecard. “I do not know the details of each of these individual citations, but I do not believe that placing any additional burden of enforcement for individual behavior of customers should have been expected.”
“The economic impact of COVID-19 was catastrophic, businesses permanently closed, personal savings were depleted, and families were in financial dire straits,” she said. “Our small businesses, including restaurants, retailers, music venues, and hospitality companies, were hit the hardest.”
Parker is facing off against former county Democrat Chair Deborah Peoples in the mayoral runoff, while Pent is running against Leonard Firestone in the runoff election to replace retiring District 7 Councilmember Dennis Shingleton. As Texas Scorecard previously reported, Firestone’s campaign has faced an allegation of illegal campaign finance activities. Neither Peoples nor Firestone responded to an inquiry about these citations before publication.
Neither did other candidates in the June 5 runoff: incumbent Councilmember Jungus Jordan and challenger Dr. Jared Williams in District 6, Elizabeth Beck and Fernando Peralta in District 9, nor incumbent Councilmember Kelly Allen Gray and challenger Chris Nettles in District 8.
Parker’s and Pent’s position aligns them with the only elected member of the city council who previously said these citations shouldn’t stand: District 4 Councilmember Cary Moon. “The role of business is not to infringe upon the civil liberties of individuals,” Moon previously told Texas Scorecard.
The citations break down into different categories.
Feeding the Homeless
Five of the 66 citations were for “street feeding,” which Fort Worth Code Compliance Director Brandon Bennett explained as giving out “food to the public from a public right of way.”
“The citations that have occurred … my understanding is that these are all food safety violations,” he said, adding the food wasn’t pre-packaged and there were no records to show where or how it was prepared, if safety guidelines were followed, or that the people giving it away have health permits. “You would still have to have food safety cards, and they will still have to account for the distribution of the food.”
“’Street Feeding’ is just what it sounds like, providing life-saving nourishment to the homeless and less fortunate,” citizen Joel Starnes countered. “We even spoke to one of the cited, and he explained that in the early days of the shutdown, even the so-called licensed shelters and soup kitchens were not operating because government allowed the fear of the virus to shutdown benevolence—an unprecedented move even during the most serious historical pandemics.”
Starnes said the man was cited for giving “hundreds of McDonald’s hamburgers” to feed the homeless during the lockdowns.
“The man was cited for ‘street feeding’ and was told that he was not licensed by the city to feed his fellow man,” he continued. “The man eventually went before a judge and prosecutor, and the fine was dropped and he was put on probation.”
“Our city government shouldn’t be persecuting good Samaritans,” Pent said when asked about these citations.
The rest of the citations include 18 for not obeying Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate and not practicing “social distancing,” 12 against businesses for “operating against emergency closure order,” two for “not enforcing social distancing,” and one for “operating over 50% occupancy and not enforcing social distancing.”
Twenty-eight of the 66 citations were issued against The Rail Club Live, a live-music venue owned by Chris Polone. His business was one of the thousands arbitrarily shut down by Abbott’s executive orders because it generated more than 51 percent of its revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages. Polone said the citations total $30,000, which he will not pay, and that warrants have been issued for his arrest.
He also said the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission is trying to remove his liquor license for allegedly selling expired beer, which he denies doing. TABC said they are “unable to comment on cases pending before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).”
Polone said silence from political candidates about these citations is “typical politics.”
“The reason why this is all happening to us is because politicians are too scared to pick a side,” he told Texas Scorecard.
We asked if Polone has heard the 2020 citations discussed at all during the runoff elections.
“No, absolutely not,” he replied. “We reached out to Brian Byrd, who was actually our city councilman for our district. He won’t even return phone calls.”
Michael Crain was elected on May 1 to replace Byrd, who lost his bid for mayor, in District 3. We asked Crain about the citations and Polone’s situation.
“Since those were all issued or in process before I took office, I will defer to Brandon Bennett to address,” Crain replied, adding he was “excited” about Abbott’s recent order banning mask mandates “and how we might continue to open up as a state and get back to some semblance of normalcy.”
In 2020, city officials cited individuals for “street feeding” and businesses for not following COVID-related government restrictions. Parker, Pent, and Moon have thus far been the only city officials to respond to questions from Texas Scorecard on this issue.
As voters head to the polls for the runoff, Polone offers a warning about the city’s future.
“I believe Fort Worth is the last remaining red metropolitan city in Texas,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is turn into Dallas.”
True Texas Project has released a list of recommendations from citizen activists for the June 5 runoff. The dates for early voting in the runoff election are May 24-30 and June 1.