protest

Dozens of protestors gathered outside Town Hall while the Town Council discussed COVID restrictions on Tuesday evening.

Mayor Ginny Dickey did not announce a decision regarding restrictions on public events during the council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 5. She said in light of a recommendation from the Greater Phoenix Leadership (GPL) Health Sector Task Force she requested a full council discussion regarding the possibility of restricting public gatherings on public property. The task force recommendation is to limit gatherings to no more than 25 people.

Officials are making recommendations based on the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Arizona.

Dickey’s decision could impact a number of winter and spring events in Fountain Hills including the Fountain Festival of Arts and Crafts scheduled for late February. The Concours in the Hills auto show set for early next month in Fountain Park has been cancelled due to the withdrawal of Phoenix Children’s Hospital from the event. Phoenix Children’s Hospital is a participant in the GPL Health Sector Task Force.

Dickey listened to comments from council members and input from the public at the meeting, but neither the council nor the mayor took action related to the discussion at the meeting.

Vice Mayor David Spelich urged the mayor to not only allow all public events as planned, but also re-open the Community Center, which was closed to activities effective Jan. 1, and open council meetings to public attendance. The town restricted public attendance to council meetings in December following a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

“Lock downs do not work,” Spelich said, citing case numbers from California (most restrictions) and Florida (least restrictions).

Spelich noted that, according to Maricopa County Health officials who do contact tracing, there were no cases of the coronavirus attributed to attendance at the fall arts festival in November. Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce CEO Betsy LaVoie also cited the county tracing in asking the fair be allowed to proceed.

Councilmembers Gerry Friedel and Mike Scharnow both stated they spent considerable time at the Fall Festival of Arts and Crafts and were impressed by the efforts to keep people safe, and the willingness of attendees to abide by restrictions and wear face covering.

Councilman Alan Magazine said he would like residents who send emails to ask their specific questions rather than just sound off on what might be bad information.

“I don’t believe tracing that showed zero cases from the (fall fair),” Magazine said. He clarified that he was not questioning Spelich and his comment, just the accuracy of the information.

“In California doctors and nurses are having to make decisions about who lives and who dies,” Magazine said. “I don’t want that for Arizona.”

Councilwoman Peggy McMahon also questioned the accuracy of the contact tracing.

“We have a responsibility for the health and welfare of citizens,” McMahon said. “We need to wait, postpone events and take everything into consideration and make informed decisions.”

Dickey read off a long list of state and valley wide events that have been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic. Those include other arts fairs, auto shows and the Fiesta Bowl Parade.

Figures released by health officials as of Tuesday indicate Fountain Hills has had 915 positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic. That is between three and four percent of population. That is, however, about 25 percent of those tested, according to officials.

The town allowed for a system in which residents could email comments for the meeting. Town Clerk Liz Burke stated the numbers received. Those who opposed the prohibition of events totaled 125. She stated that 95 of those were non-residents, including potential fair vendors.

There were 52 comments in support of restricting events, two of those were non-residents.

Dickey also noted that there were an additional 78 comments in opposition to restrictions, but those related to a more widespread lockdown including restaurants and bars. That is not being considered.

If Mayor Dickey issues a proclamation in the next few days, The Times will report on it.