Furor and euphoria: Local leaders react to Kemp’s coronavirus orders

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond says Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to allow certain businesses to reopen as soon as Friday is not one he would have made. MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond says Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to allow certain businesses to reopen as soon as Friday is not one he would have made. MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said he understands the dual pressures presented by coronavirus — that state leaders are trying to balance safety with minimizing economic calamity during the pandemic.

But Thurmond said the decision that Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday — to allow certain businesses across the state to reopen as soon as Friday — is not one he would have made.

“I’m praying that he’s right,” Thurmond said. “But I’m preparing for the potential that it may have been a mistake.”

Kemp's announcement blindsided many local leaders while simultaneously barring them from instituting more restrictive measures in their communities. Predictably, the reactions to it were mixed.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration said Monday that the city is looking at a $108 million budget deficit next fiscal year, and the mayor’s financial chief recommended that council put a hold on a $200 million affordable housing initiative — a signature piece of legislation that would have fulfilled one of Bottoms’ major campaign promises.

Yet Bottoms on Monday urged city residents to remain sheltered.

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

The Georgia Municipal Association, which was among the first to call on local governments to issue emergency orders that would close businesses and cause individuals to shelter in place, said Tuesday that its officials are still working with the governor’s office and “urging consideration for local control, particularly in hotspot communities where local leaders need the ability to impose additional measures.”

The biggest hotspot community in the state is Albany, where Mayor Bo Dorough said during a Tuesday press conference that Kemp’s decision “precluded your local officials from taking action to protect the citizens of this community … where 15 funerals were held this past weekend.”

Not all local leaders were disappointed with Kemp’s decision.

Marietta Mayor Steve "Thunder" Tumlin said he plans to hit the gym and the barber shop Friday, and start patronizing local restaurants for every meal next week. He encouraged residents to do the same.

“Godspeed,” he wrote on Facebook.

North of Macon, Monroe County Commissioner George Emami said Kemp’s decision rightly puts personal responsibility back at the forefront.

“If you don’t like the governor’s decision you still have a choice to stay home until you feel safe,” said Emami, who last week backed a measure encouraging a more speedy economic recovery. “But there are people who have to work to provide for their families.”

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis called the decision “reckless.” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he was “beyond disturbed.” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst, who was among the first metro Atlanta leaders to impose virus-related restrictions on local businesses, called Kemp’s gambit “extremely risky.”

“I hope that this doesn’t kill a lot of people and hurt our economy even more,” Ernst said.

But Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce said the governor was in a “tough spot” and encouraged the public to support him — while also stressing that precautions still need to be taken.

“I just want people to stay safe and not get complacent because we’re opening some more businesses,” Boyce said. “That should not be a sign that we have control over this virus. The virus still owns the battlefield.”

—Staff writers Greg Bluestein, J.D. Capelouto, Kristal Dixon and Meris Lutz contributed to this article.

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