Keeping Their Distance

El Campo City Council discusses responses to COVID-19 Monday night while trying to maintain six-feet distances between council members as recommended by health authorities.

El Campo voters won’t be going to the polls until November, council decided Monday night, in a unanimous vote that also extends Mayor Randy Collins’ position another six months.

The delay, prompted by the growing worldwide spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, also means a question of how El Campo’s mayor will be selected won’t be decided upon until November.

“This could be the largest election turnout in the history of the city,” At-large Councilman Chris Barbee said. Barbee, along with Councilman David Hodges, led a petition movement placing a proposed charter amendment on the city’s next election ballot that, if approved, will make the top vote-getter in the at-large race mayor and the second place finisher the mayor pro-tem.

Monday night, however, Hodges and Barbee led the movement calling for the election extension.

They got the 7-0 vote.

Just a couple of months ago, Collins had been looking forward to stepping down, leaving after 20 total years of service on council in the last 21 years.

Now, he’s trying to lead through one of the toughest challenges in the city’s history.

“I hate the fact why this happened,” he told the Leader-News. “My biggest concern is the economy. Locally, this (COVID-19) could have a devastating effect.”

The city will not only be working to keep the public safe, it will be minding municipal finances through anticipated losses in sales and property tax as well as fees.

“It’s a scary, scary time in the city’s life,” Collins said, adding he anticipates the virus and/or the economic downturns of safety precautions like the governor’s order closing all restaurants and bars having lasting effects.

“It affects us whether we get it or not. We just have to hunker down and do it,” he said.

Collins said he accepts the council’s unanimous decision not to proceed with the May 3 election.

It’s not about him, Collins said.

“I want to make sure everything is fine. We have to stop the rumors. The lack of common sense,” he said.

Saturday, Wharton County’s first case of COVID-19 was identified.

And, as testing spreads, the possibility of more local cases is all too real. In metro areas in Texas, like Dallas and Galveston counties, advice to stay home is quickly changing to shelter in place orders.

“I don’t want to do a shelter in place order,” Collins said.

What he will have to do will depend on what comes next.

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