TRAVERSE CITY — A resolution that could have local restaurants ignoring state shut-down orders and calls for people and businesses to decide if they’ll follow other mandates such as wearing a mask is up for approval by the Grand Traverse County board.
The “pandemic resolution” asks the county sheriff and prosecutor to make arresting and prosecuting those who violate Michigan Department of Health and Human Services emergency orders regarding COVID-19 a low priority. The county, the resolution states, does not support spending money to enforce the orders.
The resolution was written and brought forward by Commissioner Brad Jewett, who has been against the state orders from the beginning of the pandemic.
“I think the sentiment out there amongst people is that the numbers don’t justify what’s going on,” Jewett said. “People are saying, ‘enough is enough.’”
The resolution states that people have the right to decide “what is best for their own health, liberty and pursuit of happiness” and calls on residents and businesses to act responsibly while determining what is best for themselves, their families, their employees and their customers.
MDHHS orders do not allow for personal accountability, have “eroded rights of citizens” and have placed undue burdens and restrictions on local businesses and employees, it states.
Another item brought forward by Jewett, a recommendation to give commissioners benefits of other full-time county employees, will likely be taken off the agenda, he said. More information is needed before he can present the recommendation, he said.
Jewett said since the agenda and a copy of the pandemic resolution was published Friday on the county website, he’s gotten more than 30 calls and at least 40 emails. About 75 percent of them are in favor of the resolution, he said.
County board chair Rob Hentschel said he has also received phone calls and emails, with about half of them supporting the resolution.
“(The resolution) is calling on people to make decisions for themselves, for small businesses to make decisions for themselves,” Hentschel said. “I believe people are basically intelligent enough to take care of themselves and if someone is medically fragile they know enough to take care of themselves.”
Hentschel said the MDHHS orders are an unfunded mandate that should not use local tax dollars.
“A lot of people are afraid of the pandemic and think we need these things,” Hentschel said. “Other people say this is an overreach of the government and taking away our Constitutional rights.”
Karen McCarthy sent an email to Hentschel urging the commission to reject the resolution, writing that it would encourage residents to break the law.
“As of this week, Michigan has one of the lowest rates of cases of COVID-19 in the United States, largely because of the protections provided by these MDHHS orders,” McCarthy wrote. “For the county to resolve not to support these protections would be to demonstrate a disregard for the citizens’ health and safety.
“It would be a dangerous lack of leadership to declare that citizens can choose to ignore the law if they ‘self-determine’ that it’s ‘best for their own health, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,’ regardless of the threat to the health and welfare of their fellow citizens.”
Commissioner Betsy Coffia has heard from dozens of people who oppose the resolution.
“A lot of seniors in particular are very concerned about sending the message that folks don’t need to follow the practices that will get us out of this,” Coffia said. “The resolution is political posturing and grandstanding and it’s meddling in a public health crisis. We are not qualified or equipped to make these kinds of decisions because we’re not public health experts.”
Jewett said he respects everyone’s beliefs regarding COVID-19 and the resolution in no way orders or encourages anyone to defy any pandemic orders. Nor does it order the sheriff or the prosecutor not to enforce the orders, he said.
Several state agencies during the past few months have suspended food and liquor licenses for businesses not complying with the state’s orders.
David Barr, who owns a cleaning company in Traverse City, supports the resolution, and said science shows that you can’t hide from the virus and that the vast majority of people who get it have mild illness from it.
“If the restaurant owner feels it is in his best interest to open his restaurant he should be able to do that and the government should not be able to tell him he can’t,” Barr said.
Jewett and Hentschel about a week ago received a copy of a similar resolution from a group called Citizens Liberating Michigan. The group was founded by Traverse City resident Heather Cerone just after the November MDHHS order to shut down restaurants came out. Cerone says the orders are unconstitutional.
Baraga County in the Upper Peninsula passed a similar resolution and others have expressed interest in it, including Leelanau and Kalkaska counties, Cerone said.
“People are very motivated and they’re done with this,” said Cerone, who ran in the August primary for the 104th state House seat held by Rep. Larry Inman. She was defeated by John Roth, who won the seat in November.