New Mexico Mayor Defies Virus Order, Tells Businesses to Reopen

Gun stores and golf courses got the green light to reopen Monday in one New Mexico city, where the mayor is bucking state directives that aim to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Grants, population roughly 9,000, at first “played along” with public health orders that shuttered everything but stores and activities deemed essential, Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said. The cooperation ended when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said the state would extend those orders until at least May 15, he said.

“We’re not doing it no more,” Hicks (D) said Monday in a telephone interview.

Hicks isn’t the only local official who wants more control over coronavirus shutdowns. Mayors in northern Illinois, for example, asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to let them use their own regulations to revive their economies, while a resolution that was passed in Jacksonville, N.C., calls for a local reopening plan.

In Colorado, Weld County northwest of Denver drew heat Monday from Gov. Jared Polis. Commissioners in the county, population about 325,000, have said businesses can reopen if they meet the county’s health criteria, prompting Polis (D) to caution that Weld is still a viral hotspot and is “not there yet.”

The debate over closures also goes the other way, with some city and county leaders saying they want more restrictions even if stay-at-home orders expire. The Florida Keys, for example, plan to remain closed to visitors until at least June.

Steven St. John/Bloomberg via Getty Images
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

In New Mexico, Lujan Grisham said Grants businesses can’t legally reopen and could face cease-and-desist orders or other penalties. The state reported 2,823 coronavirus cases and 104 deaths as of Monday afternoon.

“That you can just open up businesses and not worry about public health issues is really, quite frankly, tantamount to opening up a public pool and having a pee section,” Lujan Grisham said Friday. “This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

Penalties Possible

Hicks contends that New Mexico residents are under a “home arrest” order that violates the U.S. Constitution. Stores forced to close in the city are the only source of income for their owners, he said.

“That business is, by God, essential to that individual,” said Hicks, adding that people from around the state came to Grants, west of Albuquerque, to support the reopened stores.

Businesses should follow social distancing and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Hicks said. Walmart and other big-box stores have remained open throughout the pandemic under that direction, he said.

Lujan Grisham’s office didn’t answer when asked whether state enforcement efforts will specifically target Grants. Any non-essential businesses that open could face civil and criminal penalties, and state police are enforcing public health orders across New Mexico, spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said in a statement.

“Nothing about the public health order changes just because the mayor wishes it were so,” she said.

Hicks said any consequences should fall on him, noting that he signs every business license in the city.

“My plan is to sue in federal court no matter what they do,” Hicks said.

With assistance from Jennifer Kay and Tripp Baltz

To contact the reporter on this story: Brenna Goth in Phoenix at bgoth@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

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