Local leaders don’t see big differences between Kemp’s order and local ordinances

Published 5:36 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

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Troup County leaders don’t expect to see much change in their communities after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Thursday, sheltering Georgians in place.

Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz, West Point Mayor Steve Tramell, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, Troup County Board of Commission Chairman Patrick Crews and Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff participated in a roundtable discussion Friday.

“After a review of the information the state provided, I don’t see a lot of difference in our community,” Stankiewicz said. “Basically, the same businesses are closed or ordered closed.”

Crews felt similarly, saying the county and cities issued many of their own state of emergency ordinances last week, which had similar language, and in some instances, more aggressive language for residents.

“Based on what the governor did yesterday (Thursday), there’s not going to be a lot of change in our county,” Crews said.

Tramell’s city will most likely see the biggest change from what was passed a week ago. West Point implemented a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the city. However, Kemp’s order supersedes any order passed by local government, so that curfew is gone.

Tramell said he knows the order is to get everyone to understand they need to stay home as much as possible. He said it was a little frustrating to see the curfew wiped away with Kemp’s signature citing the West Point City Council worked hard to put together that ordinance.

“I was very, very happy with the cooperation from the community,” Tramell said about the curfew. “I hope everybody will still realize that is something we’d like you to do.”

He said even though the curfew is gone, people still need to stay at home as much as possible, unless they are going to the grocery store, getting food or receiving healthcare.

“Let’s call it a self-imposed curfew,” Tramell said.

Woodruff has told his deputies to use this situation as an educational tool. He said his officers aren’t looking to arrest or cite individuals for being in public unless there is a reason.

“What I’ve stressed to our officers is ‘let’s use this as an educational tool,’” he said. “Not to go out there and just try to tell people what to do and say you’ll do it because we’re the government. We say you have to do it, but show them it’s in their best interest, and 99 percent of the people actually do what you want them to do.”

Tramell said several of the restaurants in West Point are hurting due to COVID-19 and the fact many of them have stopped with dine-in services.

“We’ve been kind of a destination city to come here and dine-in,” he said. “So, we’ve lost a lot of people that are traveling in from LaGrange and from neighboring cities in Alabama.”   

He said a couple of restaurants have shut down and others are thinking about it.

However, Tramell said in the long run, he understands these measures are needed in the short-term to ensure businesses can survive later.

“I don’t want to do anything to discourage any business from operating, and we all need to keep our businesses open,” he said. “But right now, if it’s not essential, I just want to encourage everybody to stay home and try to flatten this curve.”

Crews said people have been asking about church services and even funerals. He said, based on the governor’s order, funerals can still happen, but if it’s a group larger than 10 people, they need to maintain the six-foot rule.

Woodruff agreed with Crews’ statement but said just because people can do it, that doesn’t make it a wise decision.

“The way this thing is spreading, I would strongly discourage people from doing that,” he said. “I think our local funeral homes, for the most part, have been following those guidelines.”

He said many funeral home directors had told him people are having small graveside services and will hold memorials later.

“I think that’s a very smart move on their part to keep from spreading this disease,” Woodruff said.

All of the local leaders reassured their residents they are taking the COVID-19 virus seriously.

Thornton said some people have thought some of his comments in the past have been too bold, including comments about people going to church services.

“I think this is a time to be bold and a time to make definitive statements and encourage people,” he said. “It’s not about forcing anybody to do something. I don’t have a gun. I don’t have arrest powers. I don’t have the ability to force somebody to do anything.”

However, he said that doesn’t stop him from telling constituents that the COVID-19 virus is a severe threat.

“It’s a threat to our family members and friends,” Thornton said. “We have to follow the best practices and follow the good examples and set a good example for our neighbors.”

Stankiewicz said he’s the target population that could be most affected by COVID-19. He said he’s 75 years old and has underlying health concerns.

“I would encourage everybody to take this seriously,” he said. “If you are not taking this serious, you’re stupid.”

He said the guidelines are strict, but they are meant to protect the public.

“We have to defeat this thing,” Stankiewicz said. “And we have to defeat it by following these sensible, although difficult, guidelines of separating ourselves from others.”