Austin’s mayor and city council on Thursday approved extending its controversial mask mandate for an entire year.
The mandate fines anyone over the age of 10 caught without wearing a mask in public up to $2,000 per violation.
Mayor Steve Adler and the city council, Democrats all, passed the extension without discussion. It was item #43 on their lengthy agenda, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
It cites Sections 122.006 and 121.003 of the Texas Health and Safety Code and the Austin City Charter, Article I, Section 3 as its authority to extend an ordinance it adopted on July 9 (Ordinance No. 20200709-003) that authorized “rules reasonably necessary to protect the public health.”
Because “COVID-19 remains a public health threat,” the sponsors argue it is necessary to extend the ordinance for one year, create an offense for violating it, and impose monetary penalties.
The ordinance would expire Dec. 31, 2021, and take effect Dec.15, 2020.
The move comes just one day after Mayor Steve Adler was busted issuing directives to Austin residents to stay home to stay safe, while he was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Adler has apologized for getting caught.
EXCLUSIVE: Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the public to "stay home if you can…this is not the time to relax" in a Nov. 9 Facebook video. He did not disclose that he was at a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas after flying on a private jet with eight family members and guests. pic.twitter.com/w1uZahGfpM
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) December 2, 2020
Adler and the city council’s actions have created and now extended a mask requirement that most residents are living by anyway, for the simple reason that they don’t want to get the coronavirus and donning a mask might make contracting the virus a bit less likely. At the same time, they’re creating a leadership crisis in the city. Adler and the city council voted unanimously to defund the police, yet they must have police to enforce this ordinance. Police do not appear to be zealously enforcing the mandate, which has reportedly resulted in just one enforcement action since it was first enacted months ago. Police and the mayor and city council have been at odds through the year, escalating after the city council sharply criticized police, tried to fire Police Chief Brian Manley, and then gutted the police budget by about one-third. The city’s action also faces skepticism from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and should a resident or especially a non-resident find themselves subjected to enforcement, it is very likely to be taken to court. If it ends up in the Texas Supreme Court, its chances of holding up are not good.
Against this backdrop, a pair of Austin’s city council members who voted for the mask penalty and to defund the Austin Police Department, which requires a police force to enforce, face runoff elections on December 15. Jimmy Flannigan, incumbent and an outspoken proponent of defunding the police, faces Mackenzie Kelly in District 6. In District 10, incumbent Alison Alter, also a proponent of defunding the police, faces challenger Jennifer Virden. Early voting began this week and runs through December 11. Both challengers oppose defunding the police and want its pre-defund budget restored. Kelly has won the endorsement of the Austin Police Association, as has Virden. Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who remains popular in the city, has endorsed both challengers.
The November 3 results should encourage both challengers. In both districts, the vote to oust the incumbent strongly outpaced the vote to retain them. Kelly and Virden both have maintained energetic presences on social media and have conducted block walks around their districts ever since the Election Day result made it clear they had made the runoff.