The Brookhaven City Council has ordered residents to shelter in place through April 15 and declared a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew — both with various exceptions — in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And it called on Gov. Brian Kemp to issue a similar statwide shelter-in-place order.

“So everyone stay the heck at home,” said Mayor John Ernst upon passage of the emergency ordinance at a March 24 meeting held by teleconference and livestreamed on Facebook for safety.

The pandemic has been personal to Brookhaven, where a City Hall employee fell ill with the COVID-19 disease about two weeks ago. City Manager Christian Sigman reported that the employee is “improving” and that no further COVID-19 cases have been found on staff.

City Councilmember Linley Jones said she is planning an “event to unite this community,” where residents staying at home will be asked to raise a flag and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“We’re going to call it ‘Brookhaven Strong’” and it likely will be held next week, she said.

A screenshot from the Facebook livestream video of the March 24 Brookhaven City Council meeting. Visible are, clockwise from top left, Councilmembers Linley Jones, Joe Gebbia and Madeleine Simmons and Mayor John Ernst.

The decisions were made in a meeting broadcast by rough methods. Ernst and the council met through a video teleconference, which city communications director Burke Brennan broadcast on Facebook by holding a camera in front of his laptop computer at home due to streaming bandwidth issues. During stray camera movemments, Brennan could be seen wearing an American flag necktie.

“These are really surreal times, by far,” said Councilmember Joe Gebbia, adding that he is proud of Brookhaven taking a statewide lead on response ordinances. Those included an early shutdown of dine-in service at restaurants.

Ernst said the Georgia Municipal Association is looking at those as possible model ordinances for other cities.

“There’s an old Eastern saying and/or curse: ‘May you live in interesting times,’” said Councilmember John Park. “And we do.”

Emergency order

Brookhaven’s order follows similar restrictions issued March 23 by the city of Atlanta and a limited version from Kemp.

The Brookhaven council’s emergency order is wide-ranging. Besides restricting people and businesses, it grants the mayor broad emergency powers, clarifies a line of succession for city operations, and offers some breaks to business owners on tax and permit deadlines.

Gebbia called it necessary to “stop this madness.”

“We all know this is going to cause economic hardship,” said Ernst, but added that some business owners have requested it, telling him “they don’t feel safe. They want to close down.”

Ernst said city officials hoped that they would not have to issue a shelter-in-place order alone. “I was hoping this would come from a higher source on a state level,” he said, which led to the companion order asking Kemp to declare a statewide version.

“We in Brookhaven are not an island and we can’t contain this virus without the cooperation of other cities throughout the state and without the cooperation of the governor,” said Jones.

Key provisions of the Brookhaven order include:

  • Residents must shelter in place at home unless seeking “essential services,” operating “essential businesses,” or obtaining essential government services.
  • A curfew of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., with exceptions for emergencies; medical assistance; people traveling to work with appropriate ID; delivery workers; news media; government employees and first responders; animal care workers; and critical infrastructure businesses or employees. Anyone found breaking the curfew would be cited for a city ordinance violation, said Brennan.
  • A ban on organized gatherings of two or more in public places; walking on sidewalks is still allowed.
  • Businesses allowed to remain open must ensure customers remaining at least 6 feet apart and should not allow more than 10 customers at once indoors if the distancing is not possible.
  • Gives the mayor broad powers to close businesses, alter the existing orders and other undefined necessary actions, which must be ratified by the council at its next meeting.
  • Suspends occupation tax certificates, permits and similar approvals for the duration plus 15 days; and extends the deadline for paying fees and taxes to July 1.
  • Clarifies that if the city manager is incapacitated, he can designate a successor; if that person is unavailable, the mayor can choose a city department head to serve in the position.

“Essential services” include:

  • Tasks essential to “health and safety” of household members nad pets, including medical treatment and supplies and work from home supplies.
  • Getting groceries or household goods.
  • Outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running, if 6 feet of social distance is maintained.
  • To care for family member or pet.

“Essential businesses” include:

  • Medical providers.
  • Veterinarians for emergency care only.
  • Grocery stores, markets, convenience stores, and businesses “selling or providing items for consumption by humans or pets.”
  • Organizations that help underprivileged people with food, shelter, social services or other “necessities of life.”
  • Home health aides.
  • Plumbers, electricians, pest control and similar maintenance services.
  • Banks and financial institutions.
  • Gas stations and fueling centers for automobiles.
  • “Residential facilities,” including hotels, motels and shelters for seniors, adults and children.
  • Restaurants for takeout or delivery.
  • Business licensed to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.
  • Construction and building services.
  • Legal and accounting professional services.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.