Commissioners

Denton County commissioners are seen during their in-person meeting at the Denton County Courthouse on the Square on Tuesday.

Denton County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved an application reauthorizing county law enforcement to receive surplus military equipment — a program that has drawn criticism nationally in the wake of protests over police violence.

While commissioners continued to meet in person at the Courthouse on the Square, access to Tuesday’s meeting was restricted to commissioners, county staff and the media. There has been no indication of when the public will be allowed to resume attending meetings in person, but while the courthouse remains locked, the public is able to join remotely.

During the meeting, commissioners renewed without much of, if any, discussion an application for the Denton County Sheriff’s Office to participate in the Department of Defense-authorized 1033 Program. The program authorizes law enforcement to receive surplus military equipment, such as firearms, munitions, vehicles, robots and aircraft.

Although the sheriff’s office has participated in the program for several years, the decision to renew follows calls for systemic policing reform. In the past, the sheriff’s office has received a utility truck including a non-expandable shelter and .45-caliber handguns.

It is not clear what equipment the sheriff’s office would apply for under the reauthorization. By policy, the Denton Police Department does not participate in the program.

Calls to Capt. Orlando Hinojosa, spokesperson for the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, had not been returned as of late Tuesday.

As commissioners rolled onto other agenda items, such as business grants and the upcoming election, Denton County Judge Andy Eads said, “It’s been another busy week,” before starting the public health presentation on the county’s response to COVID-19.

On Monday, a spike in coronavirus cases was confirmed by Denton County Public Health.

“We do seem to be seeing a spike in cases that parallels with other communities in the metroplex and in Texas, [and] we know that cases are growing,” said Matt Richardson, director of Denton County Public Health. “The last week we have seen a notable increase in the number of cases and the positivity rate, which went from 2.1% to 7.8% — which is a concern.”

While community spread of the novel coronavirus continues in Denton County, Richardson noted that hospital metrics gauging medical infrastructure such as bed capacity and ventilators were being managed. As of Tuesday morning, just over half of all hospital beds were occupied, 51.4%, while roughly 32.4% of ICU beds and about 12.6% of ventilators are in use.

Seeking to quell any confusion among the public, Eads noted that an increase in the number of occupied hospital beds was a byproduct of the medical system “returning to normal,” with regard to elective medical procedures. As procedures resume and hospital capacities fluctuate in response, Eads cautioned members of the public to not be “totally alarmed.”

“We are concerned always of acute health conditions, pending deliveries and heart attacks,” Richardson said, noting that preserving hospital bed capacity with elective procedures is a balance. “[But] do not let fear keep you from medical care.”

Commissioners also approved notice of upcoming primary runoff elections for both Democratic and Republican parties, with early voting scheduled for June 29 through July 10 and election day on July 14. In total, there will be at least 22 polling locations, with nine operating out of schools, said Frank Phillips, elections administrator for Denton County.

“The nine locations at schools allows us to get into gymnasiums and spread everybody out and have distance between our voting booths to practice proper social distancing,” Phillips said. He added that poll workers will wear face coverings and gloves, with hand sanitizer available.

Phillips said would-be voters should be aware that although early voting has been extended by a week, polling locations will be closed on July 3-4 because of Independence Day. He said voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 29-July 2, while July 6-10 voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. He said Sunday hours will be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For struggling small-business owners, Eads noted that checks will be going out this week for recipients of the Denton County OPEN Grant, while the second phase of funding is set to begin next week.

The second phase of funding is expected to be significantly more than the $2.2 million during phase one, as the list of eligible businesses is expected to expand.

Eads said the grant, which is first-come, first-served, will be open June 22 through July 6 at noon.

RYAN HIGGS can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @ryanahiggs.

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