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City may explore legal action against governor

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The Roswell City Council will consider directing the city manager to not enforce the governor’s emergency health orders and investigate options for legal action against the governor when it convenes for a special meeting next week.

The council will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday in Meeting Room A of the Roswell Convention & Civic Center. The public is encouraged to watch the meeting virtually rather than attend in person due to the pandemic.

The meeting can be joined through GoToMeeting at global.gotomeeting.com/join/815060573, by calling 669-224-3412 and using access code 815-060-573, or viewed on the city’s YouTube channel.

Approving the fiscal 2021 budget and two year-end financial resolutions are the main purpose of the special meeting, but five councilors requested the directives to the city manager be placed on the agenda.

They are Ward 1 Councilor Jacob Roebuck, Ward 2 Councilors Margaret Kennard and Jason Perry, Ward 3 Councilor Jeanine Best and Ward 5 Councilor Barry Foster.

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The first item would direct City Manager Joe Neeb “to not enforce emergency orders issued by the governor concerning COVID-19 through any of the city departments,” according to the agenda for the meeting.

The second item would direct Neeb to investigate litigation options against the governor “for damages to the city of Roswell caused by emergency orders concerning COVID-19.”

During the virtual city forum Thursday night, Neeb said in response to a submitted question the city has concerns about how the governor’s health order mandating mask-wearing in public is to be enforced.

“According to the public health order, not wearing a mask is a misdemeanor. It is unclear how to enforce the mandate,” he said.

The Roswell Police Department will answer calls about violations of the order, Neeb said, but will prioritize them against other calls. The police department is taking an educational approach to the issue rather than issuing fines. Officers have extra masks in their vehicles to give to people who do not have them.

Councilors Roebuck and Foster said they requested the directives because they are concerned Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has exceeded her authority by criminalizing violations of the mask order.

The governor has the right to give emergency orders, Roebuck said, but those must be followed by legislative action.

“Our country and our state, our city is based on the philosophy of consent by the governed. And the way you establish consent of the governed is through creating a law through a legislative body,” he said.

“It’s the Legislature that passes our laws, she does not,” Foster said.

“I am not opposed to wearing a face mask, but I think the problem is that she is, it’s like a bully pulpit that she has and that she’s thinking she can tell you what to do. I am afraid that she’s turning more people off by it than saying, ‘Let’s work together,’” Foster said.

Both said they were also worried about the economic hardship done to the city by the governor’s health orders.

“She can’t just protect our health, she has to protect our economy. There has been real damage done to the economy,” Roebuck said.

The loss in lodger’s tax alone is about $30,000 to $60,000 a month from normal levels, Foster said.

The agenda item merely gives the city manager clear direction in looking at the city’s options of legal action to recover those losses, Roebuck said.

“It’s really better if he has clear instructions from the governing body to do that,” Roebuck said.

“We want our people to know that we’re doing what we can to fight for them because they are suffering,” he said.

One other action item on Thursday’s agenda would award the improvements project for the Roswell Boys and Girls Club to a qualified low bidder that will be named in a handout at the meeting.

The project is budgeted for $797,289.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.