Charting a course for the town’s reopening was the major focus of Monday night’s Delbarton Town Council meeting. While plans were generally agreed upon, the group reached an impasse when it came to discussions regarding the annual Fourth of July festivities.
The Delbarton Town Hall has been closed to the public for about two months because of restrictions put in place in efforts to lessen the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility reopened on Thursday, May 21, in conjunction with the biggest reopening period in the “West Virginia Strong: The Comeback” plan recently announced by Gov. Jim Justice.
“What is the council’s pleasure on running the town and opening town hall?” Delbarton Mayor Ray Spence asked the council Monday evening. “Do we follow the governor’s lead?”
“We have so far,” Councilman Albert Totten responded. “I don’t know why we would stop now.”
Under The Comeback plans, government buildings and offices were listed in the Week Four (which went into effect on Thursday, May 21) through Week Six phase. The governor, however, has not yet officially announced specifics about reopening local governments.
“I spoke with the (West Virginia) Municipal League and they told me that is it up to each town,” said Town Clerk Medina Mahon. “They said the governor was not going to tell the towns when they could reopen. It is up to each of them to make that decision.”
The council voted in favor of a motion by Totten and seconded by Councilwoman Rachel Chambers-Bowen to reopen on Thursday which is the date of Week Four reopenings including the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.
“Since the governor opened everything on the 21st, we should use the same time to keep in line with what the governor is saying,” Totten said. Totten is also a member of the Mingo County Board of Health.
Local residents were allowed in the town hall beginning yesterday to pay utility bills at the foyer window and to use the facility as a walking center. Anyone entering the building is encouraged “to use common sense, wear a mask and social distance.”
However, the general consent seen in opening town hall dissolved once the mayor began discussing plans for the town’s Independence Day celebration – which he suggested should be cancelled. Councilman Robert Hunt agreed with him.
Traditionally, the Town of Delbarton hosts an area-wide event which draws hundreds of people. The festival includes music, games, free food and a fireworks show to celebrate the holiday.
“In my opinion, we are only a month and a half away from (the Fourth of July),” said Hunt who also serves as fire chief for the Delbarton Volunteer Fire Department. “I don’t think things will be much better by then.”
He made a motion to cancel the event. However, when Spence called for a second, he was met with an extended period of silence from the other four council members.
“We have a motion and somebody needs to bite the bullet and second it,” Spence told the council. “And, vote for it unanimously.”
“One person cannot come in and take away your freedoms,” Totten said. He cited the ability to shop and to go the liquor store, to church and to funerals as reasons behind his opinion to proceed with the outdoor event.
Reopening plans are yet to address such public celebrations that would bring large numbers of people together, however, various types of racing events which have been reinstated are under the restriction of not having fans in attendance. Activities such as trail riding, guided fishing, rock climbing and whitewater rafting also have social distancing requirements attached to them.
“It is not one person,” Spence replied. “It was the World Health Organization, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the U.S. Health and Human Services director. It was not one person. It was not one governor. We can’t be blindsided. If we have (a Fourth of July celebration) people will come from everywhere. They will come from across the borders.”
Chambers-Bowen agreed with Totten, saying by that time, it should be up to each person to decide what they want to do.
“We can sit here and debate it all day, but a lot of smart people made these decisions,” Spence said. “If we become so dissident and not listen to our elected officials and health officials, we need to do away with the health department. This is a highly contagious disease.”
He again called for a second to Hunt’s motion. After more silence, the mayor decreed the motion died for a lack of a second. He added that he believes the governor will ban any such events prior to the holiday anyway.