This week, the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to join seven other Governing Boards in Central Eastern North Carolina to request that Gov. Roy Cooper repeal Executive Order 135, known as the “Stay at Home Order.”

The Governing Boards for Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Pamlico and Wayne counties cited the extreme economic hardship on their local economies as a major reason for the request.

In the letter, the boards of commissioners thank Gov. Cooper for his leadership during this tenuous time in our history and for the governor’s efforts that have helped to save lives and flatten the curve throughout North Carolina with his Executive Orders 121 and 135.

However, the letter goes on to state that Eastern North Carolina can “no longer sit idle as those orders cause vast economic despair and irreparable harm to our small businesses and citizens.”

The letter also references the common struggle this region has faced from recent hurricane events and the impact those natural disasters have already had on these communities.

Additionally, the letter requests that Gov. Cooper consider the plight of Eastern North Carolina counties and to not group the communities in a broad-based, statewide response that may be better suited for the Triangle, Triad and greater Charlotte area of the state.

The request would allow for the ENC counties to have their own decision-making authority during the pandemic.

“We realize COVID-19 is indeed still a very serious threat, but at the same time we realize our business owners and the folks employed by those businesses must have some relief from the shutdown of our local economy,” Lenoir County Board of Commissioners Chair Linda Rouse Sutton said.

Lenore County has been hard-hit not just by the economic impacts of COVID-19. With 97 confirmed cases and four deaths, it has almost twice as many cases as Onslow County, a county with three times the population.

Wayne County, meanwhile, leads the Eastern North Carolina region in total cases, at 685 as of earlier this week, and deaths, with 11 as of earlier this week.

Here’s the text of the full letter:

May 6, 2020

The Honorable Roy Cooper
North Carolina Office of the Governor 20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
Dear Governor Cooper,
This letter serves to represent the desire of a group of Counties in Central Eastern North Carolina to reopen our local County economies to avoid any further damaging effects caused by Executive Orders 121, 135 and 138. We appreciate your leadership thus far related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the decisions you have made, saved lives and helped flatten the curve in North Carolina. Like you, we have had to make difficult decisions that have been challenging and have changed the lives drastically for many of our citizens. These orders have placed an extreme economic hardship on our local County economies. We no longer can sit idle as these orders cause vast economic despair and irreparable harm to our small businesses and citizens.

As a region we ask that you authorize local control of decision making in regards to a phased reopening approach to local County governments. We know this is the best methodology to ensure that local data, metrics and expertise are used in local decision making. We request that you repeal Executive Order 135, better known as the “Stay at Home Order” and the subsequent phased reopening approach and allow local County Governments to individually determine the process and timing of any needed local restrictions.

Eastern North Carolina has faced significant challenges over the last four years as a result of devastating hurricanes that have caused personal property loss and strain on our local economies. Hurricanes Matthew, Florence and Dorian changed fundamentally how our local economies function. Each of our counties has seen small businesses fail, citizens lose their jobs and families struggle to make ends meet. We continue to work in partnership with the State of North Carolina to rebuild our communities after these disasters. To this day each of our counties is still challenged with finding normalcy in our local economies and the massive task of achieving long term recovery. We have worked collaboratively with the State of North Carolina, in a manner where local government input and citizen input was valued and helped develop the direction for which we create a recovery plan. County governments have always been a partner in these discussions and served as the front line for local recovery initiatives. We are asking that the State of North Carolina and County governments follow that very same process as we begin the reopening of local County economies. County Governments have worked in unison with the State of North Carolina just like in times of natural disaster to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. Counties have served on the front line, as our public health departments take on the responsibility of testing, contact tracing and caring for the sick during this pandemic. Our local data collection and ability to interpret such is the key to understanding the timing of when our local economies can begin to reopen in a safe manner. We all recognize that certain restrictions must remain in place to ensure that our local counties remain focused on slowing the transmission of COVID-19, we however feel those restriction decisions should be made at the local county level. Local County Governments would continue to seek consultation with our local hospitals, local health authorities and state health experts to make educated decisions in regards to reopening. As local elected leaders we take these decisions seriously and would use all the tools and information available to protect our citizens and vulnerable populations and at the same time restore the economic health of our Counties.

We come with one voice, to defend our local businesses, industries and the overall economic well-being of our citizens. Our goal is simply to request local authority of decision making and avoid being grouped in a broad based, statewide decision making model. Our rural geography and low population density should not be lumped together with much larger urban counties that face very different challenges. We all agree that the most recent data clearly reflects that the curve in Central Eastern North Carolina has flattened and that our timing for reopening should be much sooner than other parts of North Carolina. Our region of North Carolina is unique and our Counties very diverse, but we all agree that the challenges facing the Triangle, Triad, or Charlotte regions of North Carolina are greatly different than that of Central Eastern North Carolina. By allowing for local authority, you are allowing parts of North Carolina to move forward towards regaining losses in our economies and not hindering our long term recovery efforts not only from COVID-19 but the devastating hurricanes which have affected our region.

We want Eastern North Carolina to prosper again and to do so we need your help. By empowering county governments with decision making authority to make determinations locally to reopen our economies we can bring some normalcy back to our citizens. Additionally we request that you communicate with the local County leaders in our region to further address our concerns.

Jerry Evans
Chairman, Beaufort County Board of Commissioners
Bill Smith
Chairman, Carteret County Board of Commissioners
Thomas Mark
Chairman, Craven County Board of Commissioners
Frank Emory
Chairman, Jones County Board of Commissioners
Linda Rouse Sutton
Chairman, Lenoir County Board of Commissioners
Jack Bright
Chairman, Onslow County Board of Commissioners
Pat Prescott
Chairman, Pamlico County Board of Commissioners
Ray Mayo
Chairman, Wayne County Board of Commissioners

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