A Republican county commissioner in North Carolina is bucking the Democratic governor over the Tar Heel State’s novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) stay-at-home order. Or is he?
“I plan to sign an order today that reopens Gaston County in phases effective April 29th at 5:00 PM,” Gaston County Commission Chair Tracy Philbeck tweeted on Wednesday. “Staying at home is not a solution. We can protect health and we can work at the same time.”
Philbeck elaborated on the county’s plans in a lengthy press release.
“The Gaston County Board of Commissioners supports the reopening of businesses and houses of worship throughout Gaston County as long as they adhere to strict social distancing practices, follow all cleaning and disinfection requirements, and abide by all maximum capacity restrictions required by local and state authorities,” that release says. “Capacity, as used here, is defined as the number of individuals below the local fire code threshold that can fit inside the establishment while still practicing strict social distancing.”
Philbeck’s proclamation suggested an embrace of lawlessness, but new information indicates this was for show.
North Carolina Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order is currently still in effect until May 8 and the authority of the governor’s executive order supersedes county decisions. But Cooper spokesperson Fred Porter noted that the text of the actual order issued by Gaston County explicitly aligns directly with the governor’s stay-at-home guidance.
A portion of the county’s order notes (caps in original):
WHILE CLARIFYING THAT GASTON COUNTY RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES ARE STILL SUBJECT TO AND RESTRICTED BY ANY AND ALL OF THE GOVERNOR’S EXECUTIVE ORDERS UNLESS AND UNTIL THEY EXPIRE OR ARE OTHERWISE REPLACED, RESCINDED, OR ELIMINATED
“This Order is to ensure that the people of Gaston County know that Gaston County plans to reopen for business once state-level restrictions found in the Governor’s executive orders are relaxed or otherwise lifted,” another section notes. “As soon as the state-level restrictions are relaxed or rescinded, Gaston County shall use the guidelines established by the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force in reopening the County for business.”
Philbeck earlier described Cooper’s stay-at-home order as “extreme” but apparently wasn’t quite incensed enough to respond in an extreme manner to the state executive’s authority.
Porter dismissed the commissioners’ language as “irresponsible.”
Still, Gaston County attempted the rhetoric of a clerical uprising [emphasis ours]:
We understand that what the Board supports is not in lock step with the Governor’s executive order, but we support putting our citizens back to work and allowing them to worship corporately, both of which are their constitutional rights. In fact, we are reminded by Article I, Section 13 of our North Carolina Constitution, that “all persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatsoever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” Worship — whether by oneself or corporately — is an inalienable right of the people.
Other Gaston County officials signing on to the supposedly defiant order included Commisioners Tom Keigher, Chad Brown and Jack Brown, as well as County Manager Kim Eagle and Department of Health and Human Services Director Chris Dobbins. According to the Gaston Gazette, each of those officials claimed to be violating the law.
Nearly 10,000 North Carolinians have tested positive for the Coronavirus as of Wednesday. More than 350 people have died from COVID-19-related illnesses in the mid-Atlantic state.
[image via Sara D. Davis/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]