“Thank you for taking the time to contact my office. It is an honor to serve the citizens of Collin County. As your County Judge, I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me,” reads the automatic email reply from Collin County judge Chris Hill. “… I faithfully read every email sent to this address. However, due to the high volume of electronic correspondence that I receive, it can be difficult to respond to each person individually in a timely manner.”
It’s easy to imagine Collin County Judge Chris Hill these days sitting at his desk, bombarded at all hours of the day with questions and emails. He must be mopping his forehead because not all of his correspondents are supportive, judging by the 100+ comments on his Facebook posts these days.
“Thanks for nothing, Chris Hill! This will not be forgotten next election. At this point, it almost seems like you want to be elected out,” one citizen writes.
“Whereas you valued money over lives,” another posts, mocking the order’s officious language. “Whereas you didn’t have the nuts to make the right decision. Whereas you got your best friend Derek to sue the mayor. Whereas you failed to protect the people. Therefore someone else had to put you in your place.”
“I feel very confused by this order,” another says honestly. “Would be nice to actually hear from you.”
Presently, it’s because on March 31, Judge Hill officially rescinded his March 24 executive order calling all businesses essential. Collin County’s version of shelter-in-place is now dead.
Yet he hasn’t announced another shelter-in-place order to take its place.
Quick recap: Last week, there was a slew of shelter-in-place orders being considered in various counties and cities in North Texas. On March 23 word came down that Collin County that Judge Hill would be ordering “its own version” of a shelter-in-place on March 24.
However, when the judge actually spoke, his order left many unsatisfied and confused, because he refused to shut down nonessential businesses on the one hand yet urged citizens to stay home on the other. Instead, he chose to rely on Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Collin County.
“To protect the financial well-being [of our local economy], it is critical that we keep people at work,” Judge Hill said at his Tuesday morning press conference.
(Section 4 of the March 24 order stated: All businesses, jobs, and workers are essential to the financial health and well-being of our local economy and therefore are essential to the financial health and well-being of Collin County citizens.)
Shortly thereafter, McKinney Mayor George Fuller issued a stricter shelter-in-place order that closed nonessential businesses, and was promptly sued by a local real estate agent, Derek Baker, whose business was deemed nonessential. You can read the full story here.
The lawsuit has since been withdrawn. According to Mayor Fuller’s Facebook post, “I spoke with Derek yesterday, and although I certainly did not agree with the initial actions taken, I know Derek’s heart and goal was to help those that had lost their job get back to work safely and as quickly as possible. We all share that goal. We also all know the importance of doing everything possible to curb the COVID-19 devastation. In this we are strongly aligned.”
The entire lawsuit centered on whether the mayor’s stricter orders were in conflict with Judge Hill’s March 24 order, which no longer stands, so the point is moot.
Many citizens have been confused by Judge Hill’s newest edict because other than rescinding his March 24 Executive Order, this one only deals with President Trump’s signing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and how to apply it in Collin County.
The order is concerned with defining what health care providers and emergency responders qualify for it in Collin County, and ordering the appropriate county government departments to create comprehensive compensation plans for county commissioners to review on or before Monday, April 6.
It offers no shelter-in-place order to replace the March 24 order, nor does it provide any further guidance. Presumably, it leaves us to follow Governor Greg Abbott’s orders. Read the full March 31 order here.
Yet the decision to shut down all nonessential businesses, while necessary, is a difficult one to make. While in Plano, McKinney, and Frisco, nearest to Dallas, the crisis is alive and well, the rest of Collin County—Blue Ridge, Melissa, Winchester — may not be seeing any instance of COVID-19 at all. On the one hand, there is the threat of death and horrible illness, and on the other, there is the fear that in six months, the crisis might be ongoing, and untold swaths of the population might be unable to work. There are very few options that will make people happy at this point.
Judge Hill was contacted for comment, but he did not respond by press time. Nor did Collin County’s public relations officer.
A quote that The Dallas Morning News pulled from Monday’s Commissioners Court meeting is the closest thing to an answer we have: “We really expect grown-ups to figure that out for themselves,” Judge Hill said Monday, according to The News.
“Every family in this county knows there’s a difference between going to a hardware store to get essential things they need in their life and leisure shopping.”
It would seem that the responsibility has been left in the hands of the people.
There are now a total of 207 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Collin County. 66 people have successfully recovered. 26 are hospitalized and 114 remain in home isolation. There are 257 Persons Under Monitoring (PUM) in Collin County.