COVID-19 Issues Compel City to Postpone Election

By George Slaughter

Citing public safety concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the Katy City Council Monday voted unanimously to postpone the Katy city election until November 3.

The vote came in response to a COVID-19-related proclamation issued by Gov. Greg Abbott last Wednesday. In that proclamation, Abbott gave cities with upcoming elections, such as Katy, the option of postponing those elections until November. Abbott said last week that he encourages postponement so the focus can be addressing COVID-19 issues.

Under the law, elections are held on uniform dates, meaning that the city could have held its election on May 2 as originally scheduled, or November 3, which would coincide with the presidential election. While several council members expressed a reluctance to change the election date—“Elections are sacred,” Ward A Council Member Frank Carroll said—the present pandemic conditions compelled their decision.

Ward A Council Member Janet Corte said she had concerns about the city’s ability to protect citizens when they came to vote.

“Our main focus is on public safety,” Corte said.

Carroll said he was conflicted over the decision, but supported postponement because “public safety is number one.”

Council Member-at-Large and Mayor Pro Tem Chris Harris’s voice broke when he discussed conversations with citizens about the issue last week. He said he wished the election could have gone ahead on May 2, but the top priority was to assist the greater good.

“I’m sad for our community,” Harris said.

Ward B Council Member Durran Dowdle, like Harris, said he wished the election could be held on May 2, but said too many underlying factors were rapidly moving and changing to hold the election on that date. He agreed with Carroll that the council should follow the governor’s suggestion.

Mayor Bill Hastings said before the vote he had to remain neutral on the issue, and had not polled council members on how they would vote. He said council members have done their best to listen to people and added that other issues will come up in the future that will call for tough decisions.

“We’re going into a period of time where we’re going to make decisions not everyone will like,” Hastings said.

Harris, Corte, and Dowdle are up for reelection this year. Corte has drawn two opponents, and Dowdle has drawn three opponents. Harris is unopposed.

Candidates seeking Corte and Dowdle’s seats supported the council’s decision.

“They listened to the residents and weighed all the options that were available,” Ward A candidate Diane Walker said. “It was not an easy decision to make, but in the end the health and the safety of the residents is the priority.”

Ward B candidate Steve Pierson agreed.

“Public safety is priority,” Pierson said.

Ward B candidate Rory Robertson said the council made a difficult decision.

“I would’ve liked to have had more information before voting, but Mrs. Becky McGrew (city secretary) expressed concerns over her election budget, which I understand especially with the economic uncertainty our city faces,” Robertson said. “I support and believe the city council did what they truly believe is in the best interests of our city residents and their health.”

Ward B candidate Sam Pearson said he realized how hard the decision must have been for the council.

“There is much unknown presently and only speculation for the future,” Pearson said. “The biggest element was safety for all persons to hold the election on May 2. By moving to November, it gives ample time for the medical situation to be resolved. The only problem is, our local election will take on a new element. In November, the madness, publicity, party announcements, mail outs, advisements, and other political rhetoric will drown out our city’s election process. The decision has been made and the citizens will come through it all with their choice in November. Let’s move on.”

Efforts to reach Ward A candidate Dharminder Dargan was unsuccessful. The Katy News will update this story with his comments.

Before voting to postpone the election, the council passed an ordinance declaring a public health emergency in the city. Under the ordinance, large community gatherings are prohibited and offenders can be fined up to $2,000 for each offense. The ordinance is consistent with recently-issued state guidelines, and the council amended the motion so the ordinance would remain consistent with any future changes the governor might make to those guidelines. The ordinance goes into effect immediately and remains in effect until further notice.

Monday’s council meeting itself was held under unusual circumstances. Council members normally sit next to each other during the meetings, but this time they were sitting farther apart under social distancing guidelines. City Attorney Art Pertile urged the council to hold its future meetings by conference call until the pandemic passes and public safety concerns are alleviated. He said several council members fall in the age group that is most vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Citizens, along with other city staff that normally attend the meetings, watched the meeting via livestream and called in to offer their views at various times in the meeting.

In other action Monday, the council:

  • Approved a final plat for Pederson Road, in Waller County.
  • Set April 9 for a public hearing on a reinstatement case.
  • Reviewed the city’s bank statement and check register through February 29.
  • Authorized Mayor Bill Hastings to sign a loaned truck risk allocation agreement with Siddons Martin Emergency Group to use a 2000 Pierce aerial platform 100’ truck for normal operational use.
  • Awarded a $257,000 bid for sanitary sewer lift station renovation to Jollux Enterprises of Conroe. The $312,310 total bid includes the contract bid amount, contingencies, engineering, surveying, and inspections.