Tucker mayor says police can disperse large groups, gives OK to restaurants remaining open
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This story has been updated.
By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor
Tucker, GA – Tucker City Council held an in-person meeting on March 23, despite calls some from local and state leaders to practice social distancing and shelter in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They are not the only city to do so. The Decatur City Commission recently held a quorum-only meeting but encouraged the public to watch the meeting online. Tucker doesn’t live stream its meetings. Decaturish received a recording of the meeting afterward.
No members of the public were in attendance at the March 23 meeting.
City council members Pat Soltys, Matt Robbins, Michelle Penkava, Noelle Monferdini, and Bill Rosenfeld dialed into the meeting. Attending in person were council member Anne Lerner, Mayor Frank Auman, five city employees, and police officer Lt. D.G. Shoeppner.
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Earlier on March 23, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order for vulnerable individuals to shelter in place and Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond banned public gatherings of 10 or more people.
Mayor Auman said, “We are operating under the emergency provisions of the open meetings act. This is a regularly scheduled public meeting. The public is welcome and invited. The only potential restriction is if the room gets beyond capacity while maintaining distancing guidelines.”
The meeting began with amendments to the Declaration of Local Emergency for the City of Tucker, specific to the spread of COVID-19. It states that businesses, residents, and city staff must comply with the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security, and the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency.
The declaration states, “A curfew is imposed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., except for necessary trips to work, for medical treatment, food and medication. This means that any business with public interfacing that might otherwise be able to continue operations must close to public operations by 9 p.m., and not reopen until 6 a.m. The curfew does not encompass manufacturing plants, distribution centers, and businesses that do not interface with the general public.”
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It exempts businesses that allow for social distancing during curfew, like restaurants cleaning after dinner service, pharmacies restocking shelves late at night, healthcare operations, transportation, repair shops, laundry mats, gas stations, and childcare and elder care services, among others.
“In regards to food service establishments, this curfew will not prohibit food delivery or pick-up, provided that any on-site dining shall meet all CDC guidance,” the declaration states.
Mayor Auman appointed a task force to “keep him abreast of changes and make recommendations to help ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Names have not been released.
City Councilmember Anne Lerner asked for talking points from Mayor Auman on “why we still have a curfew when the governor has shut down bars and restaurants. My understanding of our curfew was to help with that. And why are we not restricting restaurant dining when the majority of our national chains and other locals are doing that?”
Auman responded, “We will deal with it rationally and common-sensically. If Matthew’s had 40 people in there for dinner, we’d tell them to knock it off. If they’ve got four police officers coming in for dinner, we’ll allow it.”
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In other business, the council unanimously passed an ordinance annexing 2954 Thornridge Drive, a residential property, into Tucker from unincorporated Dekalb. A second read of an ordinance to amend Tucker’s zoning code also passed unanimously. The ordinance reforms a number of issues including regulations for CBD, vape shops, and car washes. It replaces Community Council with a new process for community feedback, and adds regulations on trailers, recreational vehicles, commercial machinery, and gravel parking.
New business was deferred to later meetings.
In closing comments, Mayor Auman reminded citizens that if large gatherings are held, the police are prepared to disperse, fine, and arrest offenders.
He said, “It’s important for you to stay home. It’s important for you to reduce contact.”
As of 6:13 p.m. on March 24, there were 1,026 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia, including 94 in DeKalb County. That makes DeKalb County No. 2 in the state for confirmed COVID-19 cases. One Tucker city employee was tested for COVID-19 but received a negative test result.
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