February 28, 2020 - Atlanta - Governor Brian Kemp addressed the newly formed Governor's Coronavirus Task Force. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Georgia mayors up the pressure on Kemp for stricter coronavirus measures

With Gov. Brian Kemp balking at more stringent restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus, the leaders of Georgia’s most influential cities are set to intensify the pressure on him to take more drastic action. 

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said a consensus emerged from about 50 mayors during a Monday call that a “statewide stay-at-home order and other policies were needed to remedy the inconsistent, confusing patchwork of policies now in place.” 

The more aggressive approach comes after a weekend where city officials were confused and frustrated by a post from Kemp top aide Tim Fleming that was critical of “overreach” of local government officials instituting steep restrictions.

The governor has ordered a series of measures, including shutting down schools through late April, closing bars and nightclubs and urging “medically fragile” to stay home. But he’s stopped short of more sweeping orders, defying medical health experts and local officials who have urged him to take further steps.

>>Map: Coronavirus cases in Georgia

>>Dashboard: COVID-19 stats in Georgia

>>More: Banned funerals, shuttered shops: Local leaders confront global virus

A growing number of mayors and county commissioners have authorized curfews, shuttered non-essential businesses and issued shelter-in-place orders in their communities. But it’s led to a hodgepodge of uneven restrictions across the state that morph by the day. 

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul says creating a healthy retail environment and affordable housing in the city’s north end is a top priority. The public is invited to an open house July 25 to talk about that goal. HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Paul, a former chair of the Georgia GOP, said several mayors are preparing a letter to Kemp to send a message that mayors want a more aggressive approach.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, one of the state’s most influential Democrats, has also consistently advocated for stricter measures to limit mobility. 

“If it were my call, I would have a stay-at-home order for the entire country,” Bottoms said at a statewide town hall meeting last week. “But obviously, that is not my call.”

>>More: Kemp faces backlash to aide’s criticism of local coronavirus response 

>>More: Complete coronavirus coverage

The Georgia Municipal Association last week urged the state’s 538 city leaders to declare a public health emergency and order more sweeping restrictions. Still, the push for more severe limits is far from a unanimous position among local officials. 

Valdosta City Councilman Andy Gibbs said Kemp’s done a “fantastic” job striking a balance between trying to safeguard public health and preserving economic activity. 

“This is serious. It’s not something to play around with,” said Gibbs, whose South Georgia city on Monday shuttered all city parks. “But we haven’t gone as far as a shelter in place yet because we feel that’s not what’s needed now.” 

He added: “We’re trying to do what needs to be done without shutting everything down, and so is the governor.” 

Walton County Commission Chairman Kevin Little said his northeast Georgia community aimed to see if Kemp’s latest steps helped suppress the number of cases before seeking stricter action.  

“If people would abide by social distancing, that would go a long way in controlling this,” he said. 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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