“We Have A Moral Obligation”: Gaston County Issues Order to Open Back Up, Governor Cooper Seethes

GASTONIA – And so it begins. Gaston County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck has been watching the actual data on the coronavirus roll in, and determined that the best interest of his county was to get back to work. Philbeck announced he’d sign an order to reopen Gaston County for business (with social distancing!) at 5:00 PM on April 29th.

Governor Roy Cooper’s Stay-at-Home order, though, doesn’t expire until May 8, and he berated the county commissioners, saying in a statement that Gaston County commisioners are sowing confusion with their ‘dangerous’ order. One may surmise that the governor is extra aggravated that a county would defy his supreme authority.

“This order’s only effect is to create confusion during a public health emergency, which is dangerous. The Gaston County order itself says that the statewide Stay At Home order remains in effect, and state leaders urge people to continue following it.”

It’s true, the order does include that important caveat, but Cooper’s crosswords elicited a clarification from Gaston County. That clarification from Philbeck wasn’t without a barb aimed right at Cooper, however.

“[…] Gov. Cooper’s staff has rightly pointed out today that in response to Gaston County’s new order, taking effect at 5 p.m. today, it acknowledges that the state order supersedes our own.

From paragraph 2 of today’s signed order:


From a function standpoint, Gaston County Government will continue to follow all state laws, including Gov. Cooper’s executive order. At no point would county leadership ask its staff or county residents to break the law.

In all of this, Gaston County’s Board of Commissioners want to make clear its support for the residents of our county to get back to work.

“In spite of the Governor’s order, we support and will stand with those that want to open their businesses and go to work,” Chairman Tracy Philbeck said. […]”

In the most diplomatic terms possible, Commissioner Philbeck just told Governor Cooper where he can stick that statewide stay-at-home order.

This is probably a sign of things to come as more and more communities across the State weigh the terrible costs and infringements inherent in Cooper’s top-down, one-size-fits-all shutdown policies. Especially those areas of the state barely affected by confirmed COVID-19 cases, let alone an outbreak that threatens hospital capacity (which hasn’t happened anywhere in this state).

Other county commissions will feel the same “moral obligation” in protecting the livelihoods and rights of their constituents from government overreach. They will look at this example with interest. We expect more county orders that call for reopening, while including the obligatory language about respecting the statewide order, and then reassuring constituents that local officials have their back in a fight against Cooper’s forced closures.

Beyond that, individual business owners will be taking stands. Some are already taking stands, and getting arrested for turning the open sign on. So

When it comes to Gaston County, it will be interesting to see what the local response is in the coming days. If businesses open back up, who will enforce the executive orders? While the commission clarified they would never ask constituents to break the law, that doesn’t mean they won’t look the other way. That leaves only the State High Patrol, or perhaps a police department sympathetic to the governor’s side of things. (Remember also; these order are not laws)

What of the Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger? He’s the highest law enforcement official within the borders of Gaston County; will he allow outside agencies to enforce executive edicts that directly contradict the policy of the intentions of the county commission, not to mention the Constitution?

Get ready for a lot more acrimony between Governor Roy Cooper and the elected leaders of counties across the Old North State. This is just the beginning.

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