Preble County Commission calls all businesses ‘essential’

The courtyard of the Preble County Courthouse in Eaton. FILE

‘They cannot afford to wait any longer’

The president of the Preble County Commission said Monday she’ll “stand” between county businesses and public health personnel to protect entrepreneurs who decide to open businesses safely.

Denise Robertson, president of the Preble County Commission, said she wants businesses to respect U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. And she says if businesses do that, they should be able to open their doors, especially in rural areas that have not seen a high number of COVID-19 cases.

“If they get push-back from our local department, I will be addressing that with our local department,” Robertson said. “I want to be standing in between them. If a business opens, especially if they’re following the guidelines … and they get back any push-back locally, we will be addressing that locally.”

Asked what stance she’ll take if the state gets involved, Robertson said: “Well, then that’s when our sheriff needs to step in, because he is the highest law enforcement in the (county).”

Preble County commissioners Friday deemed all county businesses “essential” and have encouraged them to open safely. No legislative enactment happened; commissioners simply made an announcement.

State Rep. Candice Keller asked Butler County commissioners Monday to follow Preble County’s lead in declaring all businesses essential and reopening the economy. Commissioners said they don’t have that authority.

"The residents of Butler County are overwhelmingly suffering and want Ohio and more specifically Butler County to reopen immediately,” said Keller, a Republican from Middletown. “Approximately 95 percent or more of the emails from my constituents presently to my office say open Ohio now, not tomorrow, not two weeks from now but today."

The discord is not new. Last month, a group of about 30 state representatives urged Gov. Mike DeWine to allow businesses to safely open by May 1.

Miami Valley lawmakers signing onto the House plan to re-open by May 1 included: Paul Zeltwanger, Tom Brinkman, Nino Vitale, Candice Keller, J. Todd Smith, John Becker, Jena Powell, George Lang, Scott Lipps, Phil Plummer, Rick Perales and Susan Manchester.

Eric Balster, Preble County health commissioner, said he met with commissioners for two hours Friday to discuss restrictions on businesses.

“I wish she would respect the plan put forth by the governor,” Balster said of Robertson. “She’s certainly not encouraging people to follow the law.”

“We want to be on the same page as the commissioners,” Balster added. “But I think by and large, commissioners have worked really well with us.”

Asked if commission’s declarations have made his job more difficult, Balster said, “Oddly enough, I think it’s helped us work with businesses a little bit more.” He said his department has not taken a “brutal enforcement” approach to working with businesses, instead opting to communicate with entrepreneurs.

A message seeking comment was left with Preble County Sheriff Michael Simpson.

The county has seen 28 COVID-19 cases, 25 of whom have recovered, according to the county's latest numbers Sunday. One patient has died in Preble County, and five are hospitalized.

“These are real people who are trying to not only live the American dream, but feed their families,” Robertson said in an email to the Dayton Daily News Sunday. “They cannot afford to wait any longer. If someone can go to a big box store to make their purchases, they can be just as safe in a local establishment.”

Ohio government is launching a staggered reopening plan, which began Friday, starting with allowing hospitals to perform procedures that do not require an overnight stay.

Dentists and veterinarians may also open if they have personal protective gear. As of Monday, construction and manufacturing businesses could open under certain conditions, followed by retail and customer service shops May 12.

Robertson said it was “understandable that the state would err on the side of caution” as state government first came to grips with COVID-19 in mid-March.

Said Robertson: “Today, we have much more information to help us make decisions. With a very high recovery rate and CDC guidelines, it is time for everyone to start to recover from this.”

Grant Dixon, the owner of Club Evolution, in downtown Dayton, has promised to reopen his bar with or without the state's permission.

“At this time, we are not aware of any developments that are outside the scope of the Stay Safe Ohio order,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said Monday in response to questions from the Dayton Daily News.

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