9 counties sign ‘stay-at-home’ repeal letter

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners joined nine other boards of commissioners across eastern North Carolina requesting Gov. Roy Cooper allow local county governments to set their own schedules for reopening businesses and other venues shuttered by the statewide order issued in late March.

The letter to the governor asks for exemption from the broad response to stop the spread of COVID-19 that has been applied to rural and urban counties alike, pointing out that each county faces its own challenges, and many in eastern North Carolina have yet to fully recover economically from a slew of recent hurricanes.

The letter was approved by a 5-2 vote during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting of the county board. Commissioners Stan Deatherage, Jerry Evans, John Rebholz, Hood Richardson and Frankie Waters voted in favor. Commissioners Ed Booth and Jerry Langley voted against.

Langley said he didn’t vote to approve the letter because he does not believe county governments have a clear way to manage reopening, which could lead to a greater spread of the virus.

“Basically, a lot of local governments say they want to open their counties, but they don’t have a plan,” Langley said, adding that he’s looking for practical guidance from state officials to lead the way forward.

The letter reads:

“Dear Governor Cooper,

This letter serves to represent the desire of a group of Counties in Central Eastern North Carolina to reopen our local County economies to avoid any further damaging effects caused by Executive Orders 121 and 135. We appreciate your leadership thus far related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the decisions you have made, saved lives and helped flatten the curve in North Carolina. Like you, we have had to make difficult decisions that have been challenging and have changed the lives drastically for many of our citizens. These orders have placed an extreme economic hardship on our local County economies. We no longer can sit idle as these orders cause vast economic despair and irreparable harm to our small businesses and citizens. As a region we ask that you authorize local control of decision making in regards to a phased reopening approach to local County governments. We know this is the best methodology to ensure that local data, metrics and expertise are used in local decision making. We request that you repeal Executive Order 135, better known as the ‘Stay at Home Order’ and the subsequent phased reopening approach and allow local County Governments to individually determine the process and timing of any needed local restrictions.

“Eastern North Carolina has faced significant challenges over the last four years as a result of devastating hurricanes that have caused personal property loss and strain on our local economies. Hurricanes Matthew, Florence and Dorian changed fundamentally how our local economies function. Each of our counties has seen small businesses fail, citizens lose their jobs and families struggle to make ends meet. We continue to work in partnership with the State of North Carolina to rebuild our communities after these disasters. To this day each of our counties is still challenged with finding normalcy in our local economies and the massive task of achieving long term recovery. We have worked collaboratively with the State of North Carolina, in a manner where local government input and citizen input was valued and helped develop the direction for which we create a recovery plan. County governments have always been a partner in these discussions and served as the front line for local recovery initiatives. We are asking that the State of North Carolina and County governments follow that very same process as we begin the reopening of local County economies. County Governments have worked in unison with the State of North Carolina just like in times of natural disaster to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. Counties have served on the front line, as our public health departments take on the responsibility of testing, contact tracing and caring for the sick during this pandemic. Our local data collection and ability to interpret such is the key to understanding the timing of when our local economies can begin to reopen in a safe manner. We all recognize that certain restrictions must remain in place to ensure that our local counties remain focused on slowing the transmission of COVID-19, we however feel those restriction decisions should be made at the local county level. Local County Governments would continue to seek consultation with our local hospitals, local health authorities and state health experts to make educated decisions in regards to reopening. As local elected leaders we take these decisions seriously and would use the all the tools and information available to protect our citizens and vulnerable populations and at the same time restore the economic health of our Counties.

“We come with one voice, to defend our local business, industries and the overall economic well-being of our citizens. Our goal is simply to request local authority of decision making and avoid being grouped in a broad based, statewide decision making model. Our rural geography and low population density should not be lumped together with much larger urban counties that face very different challenges. We all agree that the most recent data clearly reflects that the curve in Central Eastern North Carolina has flattened and that our timing for reopening should be much sooner than other parts of North Carolina. Our region of North Carolina is unique and our Counties very diverse, but we all agree that the challenges facing the Triangle, Triad, or Charlotte regions of North Carolina are greatly different than that of Central Eastern North Carolina. By allowing for local authority, you are allowing parts of North Carolina to move forward towards regaining losses in our economies and not hindering our long term recovery efforts not only from COVID-19 but the devastating hurricanes which have affected our region.

“We want eastern North Carolina to prosper again and to do so we need your help. By empowering county governments with decision making authority to make determinations locally to reopen our economies we can bring some normalcy back to our citizens. Additionally, we request that you communicate with the local County leaders in our region to further address our concerns.

With Regards,”

The letter is signed by Jerry Evans, chairman, Beaufort County Board of Commissioners; Bill Smith, chairman, Carteret County Board of Commissioners; Thomas Mark, chairman, Craven County Board of Commissioners; Frank Emory, chairman, Jones County Board of Commissioners; Linda Rouse Sutton, chairman, Lenoir County Board of Commissioners; Jack Bright, chairman, Onslow County Board of Commissioners; Pat Prescott, chairman, Pamlico County Board of Commissioners; Ray Mayo, chairman, Wayne County Board of Commissioners; and Earl Pugh Jr., chairman, Hyde County Board of Commissioners.