Milledgeville City Council enacted more stringent guidelines Wednesday afternoon for residents as the nation continues battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The emergency called meeting was the second in less than a week at City Hall. City officials met Sunday and adopted a state of emergency declaration similar to what many cities have enacted across the state in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.
The latest action shuts done dining in at restaurants but still allows delivery, drive-thru and curbside pickup and takeout. It also closes all businesses deemed non-essential.
Milledgeville city attorney Jimmy Jordan along with interim city manager Hank Griffeth explained aspects regarding the latest action taken by city council.
“What you have in front of you, this supplemental ordinance R-2003-17, has come about as a result of the things that continue to change, and seeing what other communities are doing around the state, particularly local governments and what they are doing,” Jordan told Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan and city council members before they voted to approve the ordinance.
The vote was 5-0-1 with Alderman Steve Chambers, who owns and operates a local business, opting to abstain from the vote.
Those supportive of the latest ordinance, which will cease all dining operations inside restaurants located within the city limits of Milledgeville, along with other restrictions including the closure of non-essential businesses, included Jeanette Walden, Dr. Collinda Lee, Denese Shinholster, Walter Reynolds and Richard “Boo” Mullins.
“We have spent, and say we, the mayor, Hank and myself, have spent the last two days trying to survey what everybody is doing and taking into account some suggestions that were made at the last meeting that we had on Sunday when you initially declared and adopted the state of emergency resolution,” Jordan said. “We’ve also had an opportunity to look at the emergency declaration that the county issued earlier (Wednesday).”
Baldwin County Commission Chairman Henry R. Craig declared the county’s second state of emergency that took effect at noon Wednesday.
“Obviously, it’s what this body adopts that is pertinent to anybody living or doing business in the city of Milledgeville,” Jordan said.
The city attorney said the city’s newest resolution was “pretty comprehensive.”
Jordan said it included a total of 12 sections.
Jordan said there was much more detail relative to the regulation of businesses, travel and gatherings in the latest resolution.
“Section 1 simply reaffirms what you did on Sunday, March 22,” Jordan said. “Section 2 regarding bars, restaurants and entertainment venues — basically means we are shutting down any in-dining at any restaurant, or establishment who sells food and beverages for consumption on the premises. Of course, there would be no in-dining, alcohol consumption or entertainment during the period that this state of emergency stays in place.”
Jordan said the latest resolution still allows for delivery, drive-thru take-out or curbside pickup.
“We also wanted to address a concern that Councilman (Walter) Reynolds asked about at our Sunday meeting, basically declaring that these restaurants that have an alcohol license to serve beer and wine by the drink that they will be able to sell beer and wine in bottles and cans as if they were packaged to-go,” Jordan said. “It does not allow for distilled spirits to be sold in that manner from a food establishment.”
The city attorney explained that it is limited to beer and wine only.
Jordan also talked about social distancing being addressed in the latest resolution.
“These food establishments or folks working in those or anybody coming to pick-up food must maintain that social distancing of six feet, and limit as much as possible any contact among individuals,” Jordan said.
He also talked about non-essential businesses.
The resolution states that effective midnight Wednesday, March 25, 2020, non-essential businesses are ordered closed and will remain closed until the city’s state of emergency is lifted.
Jordan said the list of non-essential businesses basically tracks the county’s approved emergency declaration.
The list includes fitness centers, swimming facilities, social clubs, music facilities, bowling alleys, pool halls, theaters, massage parlors, hair salons, nail salons and barbershops.
The city attorney also talked about essential businesses that will be allowed to remain open.
“There’s quite a laundry list of those,” Jordan said.
Essential businesses are allowed to operate from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Jordan also pointed out that the city’s curfew, which began Monday, remains in effect. It is from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. each day of the week.
“We’re requiring those businesses to close at 9 p.m. to give those folks an opportunity to get home,” Jordan said.
The city attorney also talked about city council granting the interim city manager the authority to create an essential business list and a non-essential business list.
Those lists are expected to be posted on the city’s website and Facebook page, as well as City Hall and at the city police department sometime soon.
“But in addition, we want you to give the interim city manager the authority to change a business’s designation based on in his judgment, what best provides for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and residents,” Jordan said. “This will allow him, in essence, to decide what businesses, in addition to what you’ve put in this resolution, what businesses go into what category. Also, if it’s determined that we put an essential business into a category and it really should be in a non-essential category, he (Griffeth) would have the authority to move that business designation.”
Such a distinction would not be based on discrimination toward any business.
“He’s got to have a rational basis for making that decision and he has to give you, the elected officials, and myself as city attorney, prior written notice that that’s what he is about to do or that is what he has decided,” Jordan said, noting that would give city council an opportunity to provide their input.
Jordan also discussed Section 7 with city council.
“And this differs from the way I read it from the county’s declaration, but Section 7 requires a sheltering in place at your residence,” Jordan said. “And that covers everyone residing in the city of Milledgeville. There is some cautioning about outside and having to maintain social distancing. You will see that this is applicable to any groups of any size.”
Jordan explained that city residents are still able to go to grocery stores, drug stores and to any other essential business.
“But it’s going to be, and what we expect, is go there, do your business and go back home,” Jordan said.