The tiff between El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego has put El Pasoans in a bind. Do you listen to what one authority says when it’s in direct opposition to what another authority says? Judge Samaniego put out a directive last Thursday that, effectively would put El Paso back on the protocols that we had close to the start of this pandemic: no in-person dining in restaurants, no gyms, hair salons or spas. Mayor Dee Margo told us that Samaniego doesn’t have the authority to make that decision and he was backed up by the state attorney general. When we asked him directly what people in El Paso should do Margo said, “Go about your business. Stay open, follow the existing protocols but ignore Samaniego’s latest directive. Later, on Friday afternoon, Samaniego stressed that his directive was “lawful” and, more importantly, “enforceable”.

Thankfully our law enforcement agencies have been clear about what we should do: The Sherriff’s Department says they WILL enforce the order and the EP Police Department has said they will NOT enforce it. So…is that considered a push? Honestly, I don’t think anybody knows for sure although we’ve seen reports that citations HAVE been already given.

There’s so much confusion surrounding this that I could see a possible scenario where Sherriff’s deputies are writing a citation and then the PD shows up to write THEM a citation. It’s unlikely but these dueling directives have become so surreal I wouldn’t rule out anything.

This whole mess could have been avoided. The Judge and the Mayor could have come to me for advice BEFORE the first directive was issued. If they had, I would have told them this:

“Dee…Rick. Thank you both for dropping by. Judge, I understand that the recent spike in Covid cases HAS to be addressed. Mayor, I also understand that mass closings are going to be disastrous for some businesses. Let’s look at a compromise. People have been, for the most part, following the mask, distancing and curfew directives. A few have not. Instead of doing an across-the-board shutdown why don’t we target the offenders? Sure, we’ve had these directives in place. But have they ever really had any teeth? I would say they haven’t. Fines are small enough that they aren’t a deterrent, except for those very small businesses that are barely eking by. Bars have been allowed to reopen but many of them are using the “51% food sales” as a loophole, flouting the actual rules and treating the whole thing like a joke. So, here’s what I propose: Enforce the existing guidelines. Cite people for having large, unmasked gatherings. There are hundreds of these every single weekend. As far as businesses that are flouting the rules, give them two strikes. If you’re caught once, you’re closed for 30 days. Second strike, you’re done. Shuttered. You can get a job selling cars or driving for Uber but as far as owning and operating a bar or restaurant, you’re over. Finally, I would recommend that you target some of these people who have been vocal scofflaws. People who are having huge gatherings at their homes and bragging about it on social media. Bars that are having maskless political rallies and then BRAGGING about it on the local news. The squeaky wheel should get the hammer, not the grease in this case. Give them the warning. If it continues, make an example out of them. People will catch on. The only thing is…you can’t p**** out on this. You’ve got the rules in place. Punish the people that aren’t following them. Give it a month, see if our numbers aren’t better and then we’ll reassess. Now…what are you waiting for? Go do this”.

In the meantime, confusion reigns. But my door is always open to you both.

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