Gov. Ducey orders Phoenix to lift restrictions on parks; state parks free Easter weekend

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is ordering Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego to reopen city parks after officials had announced they were closing parking lots and grills to reduce crowds during Easter.

In a letter sent to the mayor, Ducey said that the city's Easter weekend restrictions violated his executive orders, demanding the city reopen the lots.

Additionally, the governor announced that admission to state parks would be free Saturday and Sunday, encouraging residents to go outside to celebrate the holiday.

"Public parks belong to YOU. The taxpayers. The public. NOT to the politicians," Ducey tweeted. "Get outside and enjoy this beautiful Easter weekend!

The city of Phoenix had planned to lock parking lot gates and barricade ungated lots, although other park amenities - besides grilling - would remain open.

The restrictions were put into place for health and safety reasons, citing the possibility that large group gatherings would occur. Easter weekend typically marks the busiest two days of activity in Phoenix parks every year, officials say.

Mayor Gallego responds

Mayor Gallego has issued a statement in response to Gov. Ducey on the afternoon of April 2, in a tweet made to her verified Twitter page.

Gallego said the governor was claiming authority he doesn’t have and selectively reading health recommendations. The Phoenix City Council approved the plan to limit park access in a unanimous, bipartisan vote more than two weeks ago, she added.

"It’s no surprise given how slowly [Governor Ducey] responds to changing events, that only now he has an opinion about a 9-0 decision the Phoenix council made," read a portion of the tweet.

The tweet contains a letter sent by Mayor Gallego to Gov. Ducey. In the letter, Mayor Gallego calls Gov. Ducey's letter "surprising," "legally wrong," and "scientifically unsound," while criticizing Gov. Ducey of misreading his executive orders, which reportedly allows "political subdivisions, like the City of Phoenix, to control their own properties, like municipal buildings and public transportation, and 'to set and enforce mitigation policies.'"

"This crisis has made clear to all of Arizona that you put partisan politics ahead of saving lives," read a portion of the letter. "It is also no surprise that you have expressed your opinion in a partisan, divisive way rather than in a genuine effort to keep our residents safe."

Gallego, a Democrat, has been one of Ducey’s most pointed critics during the pandemic, saying he’s done far too little to slow the spread of the virus while tying the hands of mayors who tried to do more. She was among the first to criticize his decision last week to end mask mandates imposed by cities and lift restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses.

On Friday, Ducey turned the tables, saying he’ll blame Gallego if there’s a rise in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks. Data show cases are already on the rise, and Ducey’s own public health director, Dr. Cara Christ, has said there could be an increase after the governor eased restrictions that have tamped down the spread.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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