Without hearing any public comments, the Hood County Commissioners Court tabled Commissioner Dave Eagle’s resolution on Tuesday to declare “all businesses and all people essential” against Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order.
Eagle’s proposed resolution asserted that Abbott’s last statewide stay-at-home order (GA-14) was “illegally issued,” having violated several parts of the Texas Constitution, and declared it “unconstitutional and void.”
“Hood County is open for business effective immediately upon signing this Order,” it stated.
The resolution was the last item on the agenda.
While several residents had allegedly signed up to give public comments on the item, Hood County Judge Ron Massingill did not open it up for comments but instead gave the floor to Commissioner Ron Cotton.
Texas law states, “A governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item.”
Cotton claimed he had just received a copy of the resolution that morning and that since he is a “newbie” on the court, he needed “more time to understand what the implications [are] of passing it.”
“I’m not against it. I’m not in favor of it. I just don’t have enough information so far about this resolution [to know] how to vote on it,” said Cotton.
To the vocal disagreement of residents in the courtroom, Cotton proposed to table the resolution until Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion to Hood County Attorney Matthew Mills’ request on the legality of Abbott’s order closing businesses.
Commissioner Bruce White said that he had reached out to Jim Allison, the general counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, asking if the commissioners court had the legal authority to defy Abbott’s executive order.
Allison told White that the “commissioners court has no authority to adopt such orders, and the orders by the governor supersede orders by the county judge under Chapter 418 of the Government Code. The proper procedure to challenge an order from the governor would be to file in district court.”
Asked by Massingill, Mills said that the attorney general had not replied to his inquiry yet and that he could take up to six months to respond, adding “I’m not holding my breath for what the AG is going to do any time soon, necessarily.”
Mills compared Eagle’s resolution to the Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution that Hood County passed last October, which asserted that the county would not enforce any unconstitutional firearm regulations that might be passed.
Similarly, Eagle’s resolution asserted that the emergency order closing businesses should not be enforced, since it is unconstitutional.
Commissioner James Deaver suggested that wasn’t a fair comparison, since Eagle’s resolution calls the governor’s actions illegal.
When Eagle finally had a chance to speak, he was exasperated that he was not allowed to introduce the item he had placed on the agenda.
Eagle also expressed vehement disagreement with Allison’s assessment, as well with an amicus letter Allison sent to the attorney general regarding Mills’ request.
“There’s three levels of scrutiny for a constitutional case. The top-level is when a constitutional right is being violated — it’s strict scrutiny,” said Eagle. “Jim Allison decided summarily that this would be decided on a rational relationship basis. He is absolutely wrong.”
Massingill allowed Cotton to make a motion, seconded by Deaver, to table the resolution.
Everyone on the court except for Eagle approved the tabling.
After the vote, Massingill emphasized Abbott’s assertion that local governments, including Hood County, do not have the authority to supersede the governor’s emergency order.
“The king has spoken,” said Eagle.
“All of you had voted unanimously to prevent unconstitutional orders. What has changed?” cried out one resident in the audience.
“Out of order,” answered Massingill, pointing his finger at the man. “You’re out of order. Don’t ever stand up here and say that. This meeting is now adjourned.”
The debate over the executive orders has also drawn a contrast in the Republican runoff race for perhaps one of the most closely watched commissioners court elections in the state — that between state Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) and Jack Wilson, who was awarded a medal by the governor for his actions at the White Settlement church shooting.
Lang came out in strong support of Eagle’s proposal and has stated, “I believe there has been overreach on all the executive orders local and state, every business is essential to the individual who owns the business and to the employees… [W]e should be following President Trump’s guidelines which are voluntary and temporary and do away with the local or state executive orders.”
Wilson, who received 41 fewer votes than Lang in the primary, has taken a much more tempered approach.
“While I disagree with the force of law being used to diminish our Constitutional Rights, even temporarily, our Constitutional Rights also come with personal responsibilities,” said Wilson.
He added, “The commissioners court cannot override the Governor’s Executive Orders once he has issued them, in accordance with the Texas Constitution…. For these reasons it is with caution that I support the actions that Governor Abbott has taken knowing that our Constitutional Rights will be fully restored as soon as possible”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.