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BOONE — Following a restraining order and two meetings on the matter, the Boone Town Council voted 4-1 on May 26 to strike the 14-day self-isolation requirement from the COVID-19 state of emergency amendments it passed on May 21.

The motion was made by Councilperson Loretta Clawson, who was absent from the 3-1 vote on May 21 to pass the emergency declaration amendments. Clawson and Councilpersons Dustin Hicks, Nancy LaPlaca and Connie Ulmer voted to remove the self-isolation restriction, while Sam Furgiuele, who originally proposed the emergency declaration amendments, voted against the motion.

The restriction barred anyone who had overnighted outside of Watauga County from entering indoor establishments in Boone until they had stayed in the county for an uninterrupted 14-day period.

"This has been unbelievably disruptive. This is a great way to just end the pain," said LaPlaca, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the May 21 restrictions. With businesses trying to reopen and getting mixed messages about different government restrictions, “I got calls and emails and texts from business owners that couldn't keep up," she added.

The town’s restrictions passed May 21 were a departure from the unified countywide actions of the county and its four towns since March, which included a similar 14-day quarantine order for people arriving in the county from overnight stays elsewhere. But the county commission voted to lift that restriction with the beginning of Phase 2 of the statewide reopening, which began at 5 p.m. May 22. Surrounding counties and towns did the same.

On May 22, Superior Court Judge Gregory Horne granted a request for a temporary restraining order precluding the town from enforcing the 14-day self-isolation restriction. The request was filed at 4:07 p.m. by Anne-Marie Yates, Mountain Resort Management LLC (dba Holiday Inn Express), Hospitality Group of Hickory and Smokey Mountain Hospitality LLC, who are represented by attorney Nathan Miller.

Speaking May 22, Miller said his clients would challenge whether the Boone Town Council’s restriction was lawful under § 166A-19.22, the N.C. General Statute governing municipal and county declarations of emergency — specifically, whether or not the town’s “emergency” was legitimate in light of evidence that the state has “flattened the curve.”

The clients also planned to challenge on constitutional grounds, including the right to travel under the U.S. Constitution and the right to earn a livelihood under the North Carolina Constitution.

“We were put in the lockdown to flatten the curve,” Miller said on May 22, and to give health providers time to stock up on personal protective equipment and ventilators.

“Everybody complied with it for the most part,” Miller said. “It was a restriction of my constitutional rights, but we all complied with it.” Now, he said, the town of Boone has “moved the goalpost.”

After the council’s vote on May 26, Miller said he had not yet spoken to his clients about the action to remove the restriction.

The council held an emergency meeting on May 23 and a special meeting on May 26 to give direction to its attorney with regard to the restraining order and to consider potential clarifications and modifications to its state of emergency declaration.

On May 26, the council heard public comments from 18 people — including several who have spoken to the council previously about the restrictions. A number of business leaders said that since May 21, their businesses had received hundreds of calls from customers who were angry or confused about the town’s new restrictions.

“I fear the restraining order, although swift, was not enough to prevent the damage done,” said Tara Brossa, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Boone.

Miller, who spoke during the public comment period on May 26, said that while some people receive pay from a governmental source, “the private economy relies on commerce.” Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, added, “People need to work. They need money to feed their families and to keep a roof over their head.”

Justin Patel, owner of the La Quinta, Super 8 and Sleep Inn, said his businesses needed a return to work not for profit, but for survival: “No business in Boone is going to make money this year. We are all going to struggle to get by.”

Donna Lisenby of Vilas urged the council to fight to maintain the self-isolation requirement.

“I believe that saving lives is more important than making money. Profit for a few should not cost the lives of many,” Lisenby said. Boone resident Pam Williamson addressed her comment to her fellow Boone citizens, saying, “If your council lacks strength, character and moral clarity, it doesn’t serve you, it serves you up.”

In defending his proposals, Furgiuele noted the rising numbers of cases in surrounding counties and that the self-isolation restriction only would have been in place until June 16. He also noted the large number of visitors in downtown Boone last weekend who were not wearing masks and not social distancing.

“It was reasonable, and it was prudent,” Furgiuele said. “Until visitors invaded the area, we were doing quite well.”

Furgiuele added that many of the employees who were out of work were likely making more money with the government’s enhanced unemployment compensation than they were previously with their employers who had spoken to the council.

Hicks said they had spoken more with AppHealthCare Director Jennifer Greene and with a loved one who is a nurse in Wilkes County, and that they disagreed that the matter is as simple as people vs. profit.

“I want to emphasize that we’ve got to keep doing stuff on this for sure, but on this end I need to side with the health experts in this,” Hicks said. “From what I’m hearing we’re capable of handling an increase. We know we will have an increase.”

The council also voted to make minor clarifications to other provisions of the state of emergency amendments enacted on May 21 — including measures requiring face masks to be worn by employees interacting with the public, mandated social distancing in establishments open to the public, mandated screening by establishments of employees for COVID-19 symptoms and other measures — and to delay the effective date of the provisions until June 2 to give the town time to educate businesses and the public about the measures.

A motion by Sam Furgiuele to require face coverings to be worn by people entering indoor establishments open to the public — with exceptions for people sitting at their table in restaurants and people with potential medical issues — failed by a vote of 2-3, with Ulmer, LaPlaca and Hicks against. The three expressed concerns about how a face mask requirement would be enforced, and Hicks indicated they would like to discuss the idea further.

“Every one of these people that we just listened to today said, 'Let us be responsible. We will be responsible,'" Ulmer said. "Maybe we should give them that chance.”

Furgiuele disagreed that the mask requirement would be difficult to enforce, saying that police could easily see if a person is wearing a mask. He said it seems that people are concerned more about inconveniencing visitors than protecting the people who live here. "The people who live here have to hide so they don’t get infected," he said, while people who visit here "have the run of the town."

"I find that really objectionable," he said.

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(9) comments

sickofstupid

wow. Kinney talks about "common decency and the health and well-being of the citizens of Watauga.." and in the next breath insults and demeans anyone who doesn't agree with his narrative. I would encourage Kinney to be less judgemental and close-minded towards those that don't agree with his opinions. These types of attitudes promote division in communities and ultimately societies. It's oppressive to citizens to be insulted and marginalized for their concerns, especially as it relates to authority. It's also counter-intuitive to critical thinking/problem-solving. Kinney, critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rationale, Open-Minded and informed by evidence. It's also useful at identifying people and ideas that have the community's best interest in mind and those who have a harmful agenda('s )guiding their decisions.

Roadking

I've got something for the Boone Council to do instead of messing in things they know nothing about. I'm sure you will have to analyze the situation and do your due diligence while picking the correct system we need and I know you will have to vote on them. This will actually help its citizens and help traffic problems. There are five traffic lights on King Street starting at the First Baptist Church and ending at Mellow Mushroom. These are the same type of lights that Any and Barney had in Mayberry. I travel this route several times daily and cannot believe they are still in this Town. These lights should never change from green on King Street to red unless there is a vehicle that pulls up from one of the side streets like Depot or Waters or College Street, or a pedestrian pushes a button wanting to cross the street. It aggravates me to know end to be on King only too have the light change from green to red and there isn't a vehicle or pedestrian waiting to cross or turn onto King Street. I have seen them stop as many as 25-30 cars going both ways and never a vehicle or pedestrian was present. This style of traffic light has no place in any town or city anymore I am patiently awaiting the change in these worthless lights.

Kinney R. Baughman

Absolutely stunning and an offense to common sense and reason that the requirement to wear a mask when entering a business establishment was shot down by the Town Council and opposed by any, living, breathing human being.

Arguments that it wouldn't be enforceable are laughable as if people can't see if someone is wearing a mask or not.

The ONLY things we have to fight Covid-19 are masks and social distancing. Yet the #OpenBackUpAtAllCosts crowd is laser-focused on shooting themselves in the foot and us in our faces with their idiotic anger towards people trying to save our lives by asking each of us to simply wear a mask.

It appears we buried the idea that a country can come together in the face of world wide peril and make sacrifices for the common good when we buried the World War II generation who showed us how it's supposed to be done.

So great!! Businesses are open for the invasion of low-landers who are coming to Boone in droves with their, We're-on-vacation-and-all-rules-are-temporarily-suspended!! attitudes.

"Hello, High Country! We're here to take you down."

Walking into a business in the High Country without an enforceable requirement to wear a mask will be like walking into a business where an active shooter is present.

Will you be one of the ones who gets out alive? Who knows? We're going to have so much fun this summer finding the answer to that little question, won't we?

In the meantime, let's hit the next store down the street and play Russian Roulette one more time. It's "Deer Hunter" all over again, writ large this time.

Business and community "leaders", pat yourselves on the back. You've ridden the virus to victory. So who of your friends will YOU bury first and what will you say at THEIR graveside? Enquiring minds want to know.

Flattening the curve gave us the small gimmmer of hope that our hospitals wouldn't be overrun all at once as our scientists desperately searched for a vaccine. It was never seen as a reason to open back up at all costs, with no reasonable rules for protection of our fellow human beings in place.

Now that all the armchair doctors and know-it-alls have spit in the face of science and flushed good sense down the toilet, it has only moved the inevitable to a later date on the calendar.

Next up for discussion is how a dead consumer is a good consumer or how any of our fellow Wataugans fighting for their lives in ICU is going to help put one of the local restaurants, souvenir shops or hotels back on their feet.

But I'm sure all the business and community "leaders" have an answer for that one, too.

InTheMiddle

Well it's Online groceries, curbside or drive-thru restaurants and Amazon for the foreseeable future.

andrewsw607@gmail.com

What a debacle. It is embarrassing for the Town, for the Board, for just about anybody associated with it. At the May 21 meeting, it was entirely the Sam Furgiuele Show- he had the votes and he didn't care that the Town Attorney, the Health Director, and the Police Chief all said it was a bad idea. Then less than 24 hours later, blown to pieces and all Sam's support had left the city...

His views are not grounded in reality; one example is that he thinks all the unemployed folks are making more money off for not working. Uh no, Sam that is not the case.

Next time he proposes something, everybody just say NO to Yosemite Sam-

Kinney R. Baughman

Au contraire, Amigo. The view that is not grounded in reality is the one that says we should walk into stores and down a crowded street in the middle of a pandemic without a mask on.

What is wrong with you people?

When did you all decide that we no longer have to look out for the well-being of each other but instead decide it's best to start randomly picking people off in public because of the almighty dollar with no consideration of basic, common sense rules about how best to protect each other in the face of this disease?

andy@andybrowning.com

Furgiuele Sounds like a model communist

Jeff Templeton

Wow! Pam, you're losing your touch.

Kinney R. Baughman

In a battle where short-sightedness, cruelty and no respect for one's fellow human beings runs as deep, far and wide as it does on the issue of wearing masks in a pandemic is concerned, it's understandable that you might lose a battle or two.

But this war ain't over.

Pam and I will be the ones fighting for common decency and the health and well-being of the citizens of Watauga County and Boone.

You and your smug compatriots will be fighting for whatever it is you think you're fighting for. Somehow I doubt you even know or could even begin to articulate it.

Welcome to the discussion.

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