EL PASO, Texas -- Declaring El Paso "under siege by a deadly virus," County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Friday defended his order to shutdown non-essential services as Mayor Dee Margo openly encouraged businesses to ignore the directive.
"Our hospitals are saturated and the lives of so many in our region depend on the limited and dwindling state of our healthcare system," Samaniego said, adding that his "drastic" action was the result of a recommendation from a health task force assembled in the wake of concerns voiced by the City/County Health Authority and the joint office of emergency management about a potentially "catastrophic healthcare crisis."
Samaniego's comments came in a lengthy social media post that highlighted what appeared to be a growing rift in recent days between the two El Paso leaders. (You can read the entire post at the bottom of this article.)
While Samaniego was penning his missive, Margo appeared on KLAQ radio espousing his belief that businesses should "remain open." Margo's view is based on an advisory opinion he sought from the Texas attorney general.
In that opinion, AG Ken Paxton contended the county judge lacked the authority to issue his closure order because it is superseded by mandates from Gov. Greg Abbott.
Paxton threatened to sue the judge in an effort to invalidate his order, but as of late Friday morning no known court action had been filed. Samaniego has said county attorneys reviewed his order and contends he is on solid legal ground.
Samaniego's post also disputed a public claim by Margo that the judge had not informed the mayor in advance about his decision.
"The Judge did not consult me and refuses to return my call, so I am seeking clarification from the Attorney General on the new County order," Margo said in a statement issued to the media on Thursday night.
But Samaniego maintains he sent Margo a text message while reviewing the "drastic measures" with the county's legal team and inquired whether the mayor wanted to be involved in the process.
"... this is about saving lives and stopping the devastation of the virus. Perhaps our mutual efforts will be more impactful?" the judge said he wrote in the text to Margo.
There was no immediate reaction from the mayor.
As the two local officials sparred on Friday, El Paso health leaders reported 10 new coronavirus deaths and said active cases have now surpassed 15,000.