Members of Kemp’s coronavirus task force didn’t know about his order to reopen businesses

Key members of the coronavirus task force Gov. Brian Kemp tapped to shape the state's pandemic strategy said they didn't know about his decision to reopen some shuttered businesses until he announced it at a press conference.

In interviews and public statements, a half-dozen members of the task force said they only learned about Kemp's move to let barber shops, theaters and dine-in restaurants begin to resume operations after he made it public.

Among them are the leaders of special committees assigned to help inform the public about the state’s efforts to stem the outbreak.

Bernice King, a co-chair of the community outreach committee, said in a video she was considering stepping down after she found out about Kemp’s plans from a text message from a friend.

“Like many of you who are in the state of Georgia, I’m extremely concerned about the governor’s plans and what his decisions will mean for the safety, health and lives of Georgia residents,” said King, the chief executive of The King Center and daughter of the slain civil rights leader.

Her co-chair, Leo Smith, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he informed Kemp’s aides he would have preferred a “heads up,” but that he understands the governor must make quick decisions in the case of an emergency.

“My commitment is always to those who will benefit – the underserved and the unrepresented,” said Smith, a former Georgia GOP official. “We’re focused on making sure people are supported in a way that protects their civil liberties and that keeps them safe.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who chairs a committee geared to help the homeless and displaced during the pandemic, said she and many other local officials were also left in the dark. While not directly criticizing Kemp, Bottoms urged the city's residents to shelter in place despite his directive.

“It is the governor’s prerogative to make the decision for the state, but I will continue to urge Atlanta to stay at home, stay safe and make decisions based on the best interests of their families,” she said.

Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. annual commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

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Several other members of the task force confirmed they also weren’t notified of Kemp’s decision before he made it public, but declined to comment publicly because they were concerned they would alienate the governor.

And some left out of the loop said they were not concerned.

“It’s not a big deal. Our role on that committee is advisory in nature, and the advice comes from us to him,” said state Rep. Clay Pirkle, a Republican who represents a south Georgia rural area. “We’re trying to keep him informed. There’s other things he should be doing.”

The governor created the task force in February before Georgia had a single confirmed case of the illness, and he expanded it to add panels focused on  the economy, healthcare network, emergency preparedness, community outreach and the homeless and displaced. There are now more than 80 members on the panels.

Kemp’s spokeswoman said the governor receives “regular advice and guidance” from members of the task force and takes their expertise into consideration, but would not say whether it helped him hash out his decision to restart sectors of the economy.

King said she was so miffed that her committee of religious leaders, nonprofit executives and state officials was not informed of Kemp’s decision that she wrote a letter late Monday to his office demanding more details.

The response, King said, will determine if she will remain on the committee or if she will “find an alternative way to serve the people of Georgia during this crisis.”