City officials say their decision to order all nonessential businesses in McAlester to close by 5 p.m. Thursday, March 26, was not an easy one.
The city council unanimously adopted a measure placing the city under the same restrictions Gov. Kevin Stitt has placed on the 33 Oklahoma counties with at least one positive COVID-19 case confirmed as of early Thursday.
It's to remain in effect until the April 14 city council meeting — 18 days from Friday. At that time, councilors could let it expire or extend it.
Although no confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported in Pittsburg County at the time, city councilors passed the measure as a precaution. Test results were pending from COVID-19 tests conducted on 16 individuals Wednesday at the Expo Center in McAlester.
The list of businesses deemed essential and allowed to remain open is lengthy. City councilors decided to go by the order issued by Gov. Stitt's office, filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State on March 25 as Amended Executive Memorandum 2020-01.
McAlester Mayor John Browne said Thursday he's already heard from constituents.
"I've heard from quite a few people, mostly people asking if their business is included," Browne said. The mayor said he tells them the city is going by the governor's list and he can't give them a legal opinion.
"It's a good idea to incorporate the governor's order into it," he said.
Another question he's been getting is why issue the closure order if there were no positive COVID-19 tests in Pittsburg County at the time?
"My response is it's inevitable we will have a positive case and this will save lives," Browne said. "I'm sorry we had to do it and I wish we didn't have to do it.
"There's no way I could look someone in the eye who lost a loved one and say we did not do everything we could to keep that from happening."
Browne noted the U.S. Senate has passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill and the House is expected to pass it as well.
"It should provide a lot of relief and help small business owners stay open," he said.
Browne attended the Wednesday night meeting via telephone, as did Vice Mayor/Ward 2 Councilor Cully Stevens and Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard.
Attending in-person at City Hall were Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith, Ward 3 Councilor Steve Cox, Ward 4 Councilor James Brown and. Ward 5 Councilor Maureen Harrison, along with City Manager Pete Stasiak and City Clerk Cora Middleton.
Councilors passed the closure measure after Prichard suggested the city base its action on Gov. Kevin Stitt's order.
"I think the truth of the matter is at some point we're going to have a confirmed casein Pittsburg County and every county in the state," Prichard said. He said it would be prudent to adopt the governor's plan for counties that have positive tests.
Stevens suggested making it effective at 5 p.m. Thursday, instead of immediately.
Also during the meeting, Stasiak announced he is prepared to make up to $1.5 million in budget cuts due to declining sales tax revenue and other budgetary shortfalls prior to the ending of the city's current fiscal year on June 30. Stasiak planned a number of steps, including offering city employees retirement incentives.
Stasiak said that does not address revenue losses that will occur because of the business closures due to COVID-19.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com