Mon County Commission concerned over communication issues with Governor’s Office

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County Commission is not appreciating the level of correspondence between the Governor’s office and local officials during the COVID-19 reopening process.

An announcement was made by Governor Jim Justice during his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday where he would extend the mandatory bar closing date until August 31. This would also include several limitations to how bars operate including a 21 or older age limit, no live entertainment and no open dance floors. Despite the consensus that those were reasonable restrictions, there were concerns about how the decision was made and how much input was taken on a local level.

“When we are contacted within hours before the press conference, it appears that we are only a rubber stamp and that the decisions have already been made,” said Mon County Commission President Ed Hawkins about the decision.

According to Hawkins, the decision on Mon County bars appeared to be made long before the phone call was made by the Governor’s Office and County Commission. During his discussion on WAJR’s Talk of the Town, there was issue in that while there was more input taken on a local level, it was not much different than when the last order was set by Justice, with Commission being contacted less than an hour before the briefing. As a result of the continued lack of communication, Commission is continuing to request for more correspondence and assistance on the state level.

“We would like the Governor to provide help for local authorities, law enforcement, to allow them to enter establishments and verify adherence to these restrictions and any other health department directive,” he said.

The reasoning for the request for law enforcement to help reinforce guidelines in place is due to laws that state that no uniformed officer can enter a business establishment or bar unless a call is made regarding a disturbance. Along with assistance for local law enforcement and health officials in reinforcing guidelines, Hawkins also mentioned the need for further financial assistance for local businesses affected by COVID-19 lock downs. Justice, not mentioning Mon County during the briefing, did address concerns of small businesses by calling for anyone affected to call the state and see their eligibility for CARES Act funding.

“We’ve now got out the door $82,500,000 and change to 169 cities and counties, we want you to continue to apply, we just continue to send the money out as we can get you through the guidelines and get you approved,” said Justice during his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

For now, it appears as though once the restrictions on bar openings are lifted, that there will be several questions about the enforcement of the guidelines, how many people will adhere to them and the general economic outlook in the event of a major spike. Hawkins, stated that on a local level, communication between County Commission, WVU and other local officials has been consistent and has been helpful in keeping things at bay during COVID-19 lock downs. Despite disagreements in approaches on the state level, Hawkins and County Commission are saying their keeping all lines of communication open.

“Our of communication are open, we’re receptive here, we’re waiting to as we framed the response, we’re waiting to put input into this,” he said.