Curfew, restaurant restrictions receive first approval
In the early hours of Monday morning, the Dahlonega city council voted 4-2 on an amended proclamation calling for a State of Emergency for the City of Dahlonega due to growing concerns about the spread of COVID 19.
The council also voted unanimously to closed all City facilities effective immediately.
The meeting, held via the ZOOM cloud meeting app, illuminated the seriousness of the pandemic after the first confirmed case in Lumpkin County was posted by the Georgia Department of Public Health days before.
“We are fighting a virus, not each other,” said mayor Sam Norton. “These are heavy burdens that we have to weigh. We need to have a game plan.”
The proclamation declared a Public Health State of Emergency in the City of Dahlonega due to “the proliferation of COVID 19 in the United States and the State of Georgia.”
The proclamation included several provisions; including the closing of dine-in services, the closing of all gyms and fitness centers, the prohibition of all public gatherings of more than 10 people, the suspension of the bid and competitive portions of the city’s Procurement Policy and a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. effective after a second reading of the proclamation on Wednesday, March 25, among others.
City manager Bill Schmid, with the approval of the mayor, will now have the authority to take such actions deemed necessary or appropriate for the public health and safety of the citizens of Dahlonega.
The passing of the Public Health State of Emergency would require restaurants and other eating and dining establishments to “cease offering dine-in services.”
However, the proclamation does allow those establishments to continue preparing and offering food to customers via delivery, drive-through or take-out services. If a restaurant is licensed to sell beer and wine for on-premises consumption, it is now authorized to sell unopened bottles or cans of beer or wine for take-out consumption off-premises for the duration of the declaration.
As for public gatherings, the declaration prohibits the organized gathering or assembly of multiple persons at a specific location on any property owned or controlled by the City, including parks, the public square, public space, playgrounds, recreational areas or similar place of public gathering. Sidewalks or designated pedestrian areas of parks for walking or other exercise where no organized gathering is occurring is permitted for use by individuals or families. Funerals would be included.
A curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. would be put into place effective on Thursday, March 26, after a second reading of the revised proclamation if it is ratified by the council at the Wednesday meeting. The declaration mandates that city residents shall remain in their homes or on their property during the curfew period. Fire, law enforcement, medical and hospital services, military services, utility emergency repairs, persons seeking medical or hospital services, individuals traveling to and from their jobs with appropriate identification, individuals engaged in the delivery of food, medicine, medical supplies and fuel and news media employees are exempt from the imposed curfew.
“The purpose of the curfew is to modify behavior,” Norton said.
The declaration also gives the city manager the authority to suspend all ordinances or parts of ordinances in conflict with the provisions of the declaration during the effective dates or any extension thereof and states, “the terms and provisions of this Declaration shall prevail.”
The Declaration and Ordinance 2020-18 would be revisited every two weeks if the council ratifies it after the second reading on Wednesday, unless terminated or extended by further action of the council.
‘OPPORTUNITY TO SAVE LIVES’
The city’s emergency meeting came just days after the first confirmed case of the virus was reported in nearby Dawson County and the first case of the virus in Lumpkin County was confirmed by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Norton told The Nugget that the council will now hold standing meetings every Wednesday, as allowed through the Declaration and Ordinance, via teleconference. The public is invited to join in on the meeting via the ZOOM meeting app. The app can handle up to 100 participants.
The council members also expressed that they would like to get more input from the public before the second reading and vote to ratify the proclamation scheduled to happen on Wednesday.
“We need a mechanism by which to hear more form the public,” said Taylor.
The city’s website (Dahlonega.gov) allows visitors to send email to each council member, and the public can also voice their concerns and comments by calling the city clerk at (706) 864-6133.
The two dissenting votes came from councilman Mitch Ridley and councilman Johnny Ariemma, who both believe the curfew set within the declaration is “overreaching.”
“I cannot support this document as written,” said Ridley.
“Telling people that they can’t move freely is something that I am wrestling with,” said Ariemma.
Many of the council expressed how difficult the decision in front of them is, but also agreed that they needed to do something to curtail the spread of the virus in Dahlonega and Lumpkin County.
“This isn’t an easy decision to make,” Taylor said. “Small businesses are going to struggle and we’re having to take a patchwork approach to this.”
“There’s always unintended consequences,” Norton said. “But, this gives us an opportunity to save lives in our community. This isn’t a lockdown. We may need to incrementally increase restrictions, but instead of jumping to DefCon 4 we are trying to start at DefCon 1.”
Norton also stressed his belief that if nothing is done to combat the spread of COVID 19 that there isn’t enough medical assistance in the city.
“Personally, I think there isn’t enough of anything,” Norton said. “There’s not enough hospital beds, ventilators, masks or anything if this continues to spread through the community. This is the most important legislation we’ll ever pass.”
CONTACT THE COUNCIL
The council will meet again this Wednesday for a second reading of the proclamation with revisions before voting to ratify the Declaration and Ordinance.
Council members can also be reached via telephone for public input:
Mayor Sam Norton: (706) 969-3909
Councilman Roman Gaddis: (706) 300-6555
Councilman Mitch Ridley: (706) 344-2948
Councilwoman Helen Hardman: (706) 864-5919
Councilwoman JoAnne Taylor: (706) 429-5418
Councilman Ron Larson: (706) 817-8998
Councilman Johnny Ariemma: (706) 429-5418