Pima County is considering backing off on several points in a proclamation aimed at restaurants after it ran into a buzz saw of upset business owners and mayors.
It's also dealing with three state legislators who are asking the attorney general to investigate whether the county violated an executive order from the governor.
The county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved temporarily adding 15 measures into county health code aimed at restaurants that are reopening or have recently reopened due to the coronavirus. Two other measures were left as recommendations.
Among the measures was a $500 fine for a third violation; requiring reservations or call-ahead seating for dine-in service; and implementing touchless payment methods.
The county vote came two days after Gov. Doug Ducey allowed restaurants to reopen under less-stringent state guidelines.
The 3-2 vote along party lines raised questions over whether the county is in violation of Ducey’s Executive Order, which states that “no county, city or town may make or issue any order, rule or regulation that conflicts with or is in addition to the policy, directives or intent of this Executive Order…”
Democratic Supervisors Ramon Valadez, Sharon Bronson and Betty Villegas voted for them; Republicans Steve Christy and Ally Miller were opposed.
Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy and Marana Mayor Ed Honea said Thursday that the county measures clearly violate Ducey’s order.
“I don’t disagree that those 17 are probably good suggestions, but I trust our restaurateurs to always protect their staffs and clients to the best of their ability,” Murphy said. He said the town will not mandate them “with regulations and fines.”
“We would see (the measures) as an addition to the governor’s guidance and we have tried to stay very aligned with the governor’s orders and proclamations,” he said. “I will continue, to the best of my ability, to align what we’re doing in the town with what the governor’s direction has been.”
Honea agreed, saying, “we’re not going to be the cops for the county order,” and said the county was attempting and end run around the governor by putting the measures into the health code.
Drop it all
Christy, who voted against the county proclamation, said Friday that he was concerned that the restaurant industry wasn’t consulted or involved in discussions about the measures.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the measures represented a consensus of the Pima County Back to Business Task Force and that an online poll of more than 9,000 people indicated strong support for standards more strict than the state laid out.
But Christy said simply changing a few of the measures, as Huckelberry is now proposing, isn’t enough. The county still is in violation of the governor’s Executive Order.
“I would certainly be in favor of just repealing what we’ve done and letting the process alone and allowing the restaurants to operate under the state’s guidance, as it should be,” Christy said.
He said the modifications drawn up by Huckelberry are an acknowledgement that the county overreached.
“I think that the county administrator feels that he perhaps made mistakes in this whole process and is trying to remedy them,” he said, calling the measures “overarching regulatory impositions” imposed upon “a battered industry.”
He said he’s confident that state guidelines are enough to keep workers and customers safe. He also said he doesn’t think the state will accept anything less than repealing the proclamation.
State Sen. Vince Leach and Reps. Mark Finchem and Bret Roberts, whose District 11 includes Marana and other areas northwest of Tucson, on Thursday asked state Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate whether Pima County has violated the governor’s Executive Order.
The county was contacted Friday by Brnovich’s office and was asked to provide a written response by 5 p.m. May 19. If Pima County is found in violation, it would have 30 days to resolve it or lose state-shared revenue, according to the letter.
On Friday, Huckelberry sent a memo to the county board saying he had met that morning with representatives from the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and their restaurants “to discuss issues of concern and to identify unintended consequences” of the proclamation.
As a result, Huckelberry offered five modifications for the board to consider at its Tuesday meeting. Among those are dropping the $500 fine; allowing patrons to sit at bars six feet apart; and not asking restaurants to attempt to determine whether patrons are ill.