Community leaders host third roundtable discussion

Published 7:15 pm Friday, March 27, 2020

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County leaders from the four municipal governments in Troup County met in a virtual roundtable discussion Friday morning to discuss actions their respective boards took earlier in the week amending state of emergency ordinances.

Hogansville, LaGrange, Troup County and West Point all voted to close down several businesses such as barbershops, hair salons and other businesses deemed non-essential. All cities additionally banned gatherings of more than 10 people. LaGrange, West Point and Hogansville started with the same ordinance from the Georgia Municipal Association, but each ended with different results. Troup County modeled its ordinance based on advice from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

LaGrange, West Point and Troup County each banned dine-in services throughout their respective cities. Hogansville voted to keep them open initially but reversed course in an emergency meeting later on Friday.

Mayor Bill Stankiewicz said Friday that all of the restaurants except for one had closed its dining room in Hogansville. Stankiewicz was firmly in favor of ordering the restaurants to close but was opposed by the city council.

“Maybe the court of public opinion prevailed,” he said at the roundtable, which was before the emergency meeting.

LaGrange and Hogansville took out the section in the ordinance to impose a curfew, leaning on public safety officials telling them enforcement would be tough.

However, West Point did enact a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Mayor Steve Tramell said he and the council are concerned about their police department and the amount of work falling on them.

“At night from 10 to 5, it’s even more difficult to maintain social distance and just to keep yourself safe at night,” Tramell said. “With that stated, our police officers are not going to be out there with the paddy wagon picking people up and taking them to jail.”

Tramell said if a person is driving to work or driving through town, the curfew won’t affect them.

“If you’re congregating in a group at 3 a.m. in the morning, we’re going to address that, though,” he said. “People need to know that’s not the thing to be doing right now.”

Troup County Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Crews said he’s been getting questions about what to do if someone sees a violation of the county’s order or the Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order. He said the first option should not be to call 911.

“We cannot overwhelm 911 with calls,” Crews said. “We have to remember that 911 is still in the business of taking care of other emergencies.”

He said the best way to handle that type of reporting is to log onto the Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 website and email them about a potential violation. Per Kemp’s executive order, the department of public health has the authority to close any business not following directives from the state.

Crews said the county isn’t interested in sending law enforcement out to write tickets whenever they see a violation.

“It is our position that our law enforcement and other personnel will approach someone and let them know that it’s a violation,” he said. “We’re even looking at a handout that can be given to those people explaining the ordinance and then making the recommendation that they move on.”

Crews said if people decide they won’t comply, then there is the possibility the public health department can shut them down.

All three mayors and the chairman said they are cutting back on services provided at this time.

“I can tell you from LaGrange’s perspective, the water plant is running, sewer plant is running, electric and gas is still flowing, and we are still running our residential sanitation and recycling,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said. “Now obviously, these things could be affected at some point if the shutdown becomes more became more significant.”

He said utilities would continue to be deemed essential as well as the residential sanitation pickup. Other services like recycling and picking up limbs and debris could be interrupted, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Stankiewicz said Hogansville has no plans to cut back on anything as of right now.

“We have no plans to cut back any services that the city currently provides,” he said. “We don’t know what the future will bring. We can’t predict that with certainty. But we can say that we have no plan to eliminate or curtail or cut back any of the services that the city currently provides.”

Tramell and Crew echoed those sentiments for their cities.

All municipalaties also informed the public that the conditions placed on the state of emergencies could be lifted at any time if the situation gets better, and they are given the green light from health officials. However, the ordinances can also be renewed if it gets worse or does not improve at all.

In closing, Stankiewicz said it’s all the resident’s responsibility to act individually to help end the healthcare crisis.

“If you do not, you will prolong this crisis and make it worse and cause people to suffer,” he said. “I cannot urge the people that are listening strongly enough with the strongest possible terms. Stop doing these foolish things, and let’s get together and work together as a community.”