Mayor’s Town Hall: Critical period brings increased surveillance, cancellations


Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Reporter

While uncertainty regarding COVID-19 still looms over the nation, Tuscaloosa officials provided as much information as they could regarding ticketing for those not complying with social distancing guidelines, event cancellations, recreational activities and upcoming Easter Sunday plans.

On April 10, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox was joined by city attorney Glenda Webb and associate city attorney Scott Holmes to answer questions submitted by community members. This is a part of an ongoing series of virtual town halls that the mayor has hosted over the past month via Facebook Live and Periscope on Twitter. The questions are in bold.

I keep hearing about the curfew and Tuscaloosa Police Department ticketing. What’s that all about?

Maddox: For the last couple of weeks we have been issuing warnings. We’ve been doing certain things to let the community know what’s going to be happening, not only in the city but at the lake, and all the different places that we’re responsible for. But now is the time, because we’re getting to a very critical period where we can beat the coronavirus, that we need everyone participating. So we’re going to begin [ticketing], and it’s in the officers discretion now to issue tickets.

Holmes: This is one of those areas where we really hope to issue no tickets. We want the public to be compliant and we want to accomplish the goal of people staying home. We don’t want tickets. We don’t want arrests. We want that not to be necessary. You know initially we started with some checkpoints and some other things to educate the public. Not everybody pays attention to local government as much as we sometimes think they do, and so we spent a lot of time educating. At this point, everyone should know the most basic sort of parts of this. So, at this point officers who are running across flagrant offenders, people they’ve had repeated trouble with, businesses they’ve had repeated trouble with, we will start issuing citations now. And I expect just like trespass citations after the tornado, these will be treated very seriously when they ultimately come to court. 

I’ve noticed several helicopters flying around recently. Are they monitoring citizens and business activities?

Maddox: Tuscaloosa Police Department has certainly been up in the air a lot looking at activity. We’re trying to make certain that people know that this is serious and we have to treat it as such. It also provides intel to our officers down on the ground about what’s going on. We’ve also had a good number of Army National Guard helicopters that have come in. The city is currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a secondary side if need be, if we were to have DCH overloaded. So the National Guard has been part of that, and the Army Corps of Engineers, so you will see their aircraft from time to time here in Tuscaloosa. And quite frankly, when you see Army helicopters flying around, that should tell you how serious this is. 

Webb: It is a mechanism for planning so we can monitor the situation as well as plan. [We need to] scout sites and things of that sort to know what traffic patterns are out there and what’s readily accessible, because if we get into a medical surge situation where we need additional capacity, how can we integrate our existing facility with a new facility? So, there’s a lot of reconnaissance just out checking for sites and how they would integrate.

Why are events canceled until May? Does that mean we’ll definitely be quarantined until then?

Maddox: We have dozens of staff members that have to plan for events at the Amphitheater, plan for events at the Rivermarket, and actually plan for events, whether it’s at Government Plaza or across the city. I felt like those employees need to be focused on the coronavirus and not focused on events that may or may not take place. When we talk about utilizing the resources of the city, this is serious, and planning a concert at the amphitheater is not more important than saving lives, and that’s an easy choice to make. There’s also contractual obligations. Many of these events have contracts, and many of those contracts require notice, and so we need to abide by that as well.

Holmes: Sometimes people don’t realize, whether it be an amphitheater event or, you know, half marathon, the number of people involved weeks and months out, and that this is not something that you can get up a week before and then cancel, because the vast majority of the work has been done. Especially when you look at something that involves large amounts of the public, police planning, those sorts of things. It requires a lot more to be done, and a lot earlier than I think a lot of people realize.

Is it okay to go to a private pond, like to fish?

Holmes: It is, but I would like to address a sort of larger issue with this question, because we’re getting a lot of questions like this, which is good. People want to do the right thing. As far as curfew and the stay-at-home order, you’re fine to fish in a private pond. But I want to step back from what you can do, because we get a lot of, “Can I do this?” questions, and there are a lot of things you can do. You know, I can go to Publix every day. But, I think what we need to be asking ourselves as citizens is, “What do I have to do?” Because as much as you can do lots of things, we want you at home as much as possible. If there’s one person in your house that can be the person that goes out, then that’s less contact from everybody, and that’s how we flatten the curve. So just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should be doing everything you possibly can do. You should be dialing back and only doing what was absolutely necessary.

What can we do for Easter church services?

Maddox: If you can celebrate within your home setting, that is the best case possible. Today is about the dying of Jesus on the cross, and then Sunday we celebrate life. What better way to celebrate life than protecting life throughout our community?