The Monroe City Council Meeting met Thursday to consider emergency ordinances in the light of the president and Georgia governor’s call to clamp down on social gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19. Council members voted to implement several ordinances in this regard but stopped short of imposing a curfew. That did not sit well with Monroe Police Chief R.V. Watts who told council members and others in attendance via teleconference that the police department had broken up a 400 or 500 people block party just this past weekend at Walton Road and Kelton Road. A video of another block has now surfaced that was taken last night, March 27, 2020, in a different neighborhood in Monroe – the Young Pines neighborhood.
“We should do everything possible and within our powers to slow this pandemic down. We know we cannot stop it. It is here and people are acting like it’s not a big deal. We are in a National and State of emergency because of this highly contagious and deadly virus,” Watts said. At Thursday’s meeting when speaking in support of the curfew, Watts added that it puts his officers at risk themselves when they have to go into these neighborhoods to break up large crowds. “A curfew would give my officers a little more ground to stand on, It gives us a little more authority to disperse those individuals.”
While Walton County still has no official case listed on the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Michelle Plaster of Our Family Health Center in Monroe said that’s likely due to a backlog at GDPH as they collect all the test results and input them for public information. She said she herself has sent in two positive COVID-19 results from Walton County at the beginning of the week to be added to the statistics.
Monroe Councilwoman Lee Malcom was the only councilmember to support a curfew this past week. Councilman Larry Bradley initially said he would vote against it but instead voted to abstain after hearing from the police chief and the problems that his officers face. Malcom asked that the council revisit the issue at the next City Council meeting, but in the light of this video she is asking for an earlier meeting to re-consider the curfew.
“I have spoken to (the police chief) and I do not think we can wait another minute to address his concerns by way of enacting a curfew,” Malcom said.
At the meeting, Councilman David Dickinson had expressed concerns over the infringement on the rights of people, saying a curfew was tantamount to imposing Marshal Law. He pointed out that the City of Athens had imposed a curfew and it was now being challenged in court. Councilmen Ross Bradley, Nathan Little and Wayne Adcock agreed and voted along with Dickinson not to impose a curfew.
The curfew that was proposed, but failed to pass, would have been for 30 days and would be from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. Exceptions would have been “when an individual must run an emergency errand; when an individual is traveling to or returning directly from an activity involving the exercise of their First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of assembly or free exercise of religion; when an individual is engaged in interstate or intrastate travel through the City of Monroe; when an individual is walking, biking, running, or engaged in some other form of physical exercise, and traveling to or from their residence for fitness purposes; when an individual is procuring food, medicine or medical care; when an individual is traveling directly from work to their place of residence, or shelter.”
Do you support a curfew in the City of Monroe during this COVID-19 pandemic or do you consider it a step too far?