Greenville to 're-evaluate' proposed COVID-19 stay-at-home order in light of Attorney General opinion
The city of Greenville will have to “re-evaluate” a stay-at-home ordinance that would have joined actions in Charleston and Columbia after the state Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion Friday saying Gov. Henry McMaster’s emergency orders take precedence.
Mayor Knox White told The Greenville News that the opinion preempts any action the city would take.
Later Friday, McMaster declined to issue any statewide order of what are considered "non-essential" businesses, saying that he wants "to see as many people working" as they can while following guidelines to prevent spread of the virus.
McMaster said the opinion issued by Attorney General Alan Wilson's office is "very good, I believe."
The mayor had scheduled a meeting of the City Council for this coming Monday to take up an ordinance that would close non-essential businesses and order people to stay home except to conduct certain activities.
During a joint press briefing among Upstate leaders today, White said he expected that the governor would follow with more guidance on what would constitute "essential services," and particularly what he called "personal services" like barbershops and nail salons.
The governor didn't, and now, White said, the city will review with its legal counsel what can be done but said that the city will likely be left to merely try to "enunciate" its message to stay home – which he said was the most-effective aspect of the city's orders to begin with.
The city will send McMaster a list of what it considers businesses that should be limited, he said.
“In light of the AG opinion, we will have to re-evaluate,” White said. “It doesn’t change our message to residents to stay at home and our urging the governor to define essential businesses.”
What we know:Coronavirus in South Carolina
In Columbia, Mayor Steve Benjamin pledged to forge ahead with its stay-at-home order, set to go in effect Sunday, despite the Attorney General's opinion.
"The actions taken by the City are entirely within our authority," Benjamin stated in an email statement. "Our actions do not contradict the Governor's actions because on this immediate issue before us — proven one of the most important and effective to stopping the spread of this virus, he has not acted."
When asked about the Columbia mayor's stance afterward, White told The News that the City Council "wants any action to be effective and legal."
The opinion issued by the Attorney General on Friday morning states that "local government cannot exercise the emergency powers delegated to the Governor by the General Assembly. Therefore, counties and municipalities should be aware that any unauthorized exercise of such emergency powers could subject these political subdivisions to liability at the behest of a private citizen with requisite legal standing."
One Lowcountry city, Folly Beach, backed off its actions to place more restrictions than the governor on businesses and social movement. In an emergency meeting Friday, the beach town's City Council voted to rescind its ordinance that closed restaurants, halted short-term rentals and accommodations, and installed a checkpoint at the only bridge into town.
In a stern statement during the meeting addressed to citizens who had expressed that the governor's executive orders didn't go far enough to ensure proper social distancing, Mayor Tim Goodwin said that the city reached out to McMaster's office to seek guidance on the AG's opinion and received none.
“We share your frustration and concern," Goodwin said during the council meeting conducted virtually. "We hope the governor is correct that the people of South Carolina will do the right thing.
The mayor concluded the meeting saying, "God bless you and your family. Please stay safe, please stay healthy, and stay as far away from the tourists as you can.”
Friday's opinion, which affirms a 1980 opinion issued by the state attorney general, was requested by state Rep. Jeff Bradley, a Republican from Hilton Head.
The city of Greenville's order would have been less restrictive than those in Charleston and Columbia, White said.
The mayor said those two orders "went too far," and the city was considering issuing a revised version. The cities' orders offered a laundry list of exempted businesses and broad provisions for what activities the public would participate in.
“We saw some problems in terms of perhaps some overreach of what a government could ask anyone to do, but also the multitude of exceptions was troubling, as well,” White said.
Charleston's stay-at-home order went into effect Thursday. Mayor John J. Tecklenburg and his senior aide could not be reached for comment.
An order approved by the Columbia City Council on Thursday calls for the city's residents to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
McMaster has so far resisted calls to impose a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order to address rising number of COVID-19 cases in South Carolina. He has closed schools, banned on-premises dining at restaurants and ordered law enforcement to disperse groups of three or more people.
White said he believes a statewide stay-at-home order is "a matter of when," not if.
Greenville County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said that Greenville has taken incremental steps to limit activity.
Earlier this week, the council enacted a nighttime downtown curfew, which isn't governed by the AG's opinion, closed Falls Park and then on Friday closed Cleveland Park beginning Saturday.
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