On Wednesday Dec. 9, the six Democrats on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners passed a new county ordinance that could lead to citizens being fined, businesses being shut down – and it could even lead to the imprisonment of violators.
The board’s three Republican commissioners were strongly opposed to the move and are still railing against it days later.
Commissioners Justin Conrad, Alan Branson and Alan Perdue all said the move was an unwise and unneeded major overreach and that the county could deal with the pandemic in a much more logical and less hysterical manner.
At the Board of Commissioners Wednesday, Dec. 9 meeting, the board’s six Democratic commissioners voted to authorize the county and other municipalities to dub county employees or city employees as enforcement officers for the brand-new set of rules.
The day after the meeting, Conrad said he wanted to emphasize one point made at the meeting.
“Feel good policy is not the same thing as good policy; and what we did last night – what they did – is feel good policy; it is not good policy,” Conrad said.
The three commissioners made extensive arguments against the new law that provides fines and potential business shutdowns for businesses and fines and penalties for individuals that can include imprisonment of up to six months. If a business engages in repeated violations of NC Governor Roy Cooper’s executive orders requiring people to wear masks or rules on gathering sizes and business clientele limitations, the business can be shut down, and someone who obstructs an “enforcement officer” carrying out their orders can go to jail for half a year.
The three commissioners said that the ordinance was ambiguous and they were worried about the fact that the enforcement could be conducted by people who knew nothing about the virus or enforcement. The plan allows for county or city employees to be designated as enforcement officers.
Those backing the plan stressed that the employees would be given training, but Conrad and others didn’t like the idea of having such powerful rules enforced by hastily trained county staff who may never have enforced anything in their lives.
“It essentially deputizes people who have no experience in enforcement and allows them to enforce rules that could lead to imprisonment,” Conrad said.
One line in the document that several commissioners don’t approve of is this: “It is the enforcement officers’ sole discretion to determine the most effective means of enforcement consistent with this BOH [Board of Health Rule]….”
Conrad and Perdue stressed that they weren’t saying the COVID-19 didn’t need to be addressed, but they said they were instead arguing that this was an ill-conceived and very heavy-handed way to do so that would create a great many problems.
Conrad came to the meeting prepared. He had brought records of 911 calls related to COVID-19 gatherings made between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, and he pointed out that there were just over 30 calls in that time. He said that, even if that number quadrupled, there would just be a case or two a day, so there was no reason to create an army of county newbies to enforce brand-new law.
“Everyone up here says that COVID is serious,” Conrad said, “but do we need to all the sudden have an untrained police force when I think we have the staff to cover the calls we have?”
Conrad also said that the new ordinance did not have proper focus.
“Any loss of life in Guilford County is a tragedy, I’m just concerned that, in this entire document, not one time is nursing homes, congregate care, or long-term care facilities mentioned,” he said.
Conrad added that those constituted the sites of “the overwhelming amount of coronavirus deaths in our community.”
Branson said he had asked staff questions including those about the length of training of the enforcement officers and, he added, he’d either not gotten answers or had received very unsatisfactory ones.
Perdue presented a host of arguments against the ordinance that the Democratic commissioners adopted on a straight party line vote.