County’s state of emergency declaration expires

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — The county is no longer in a state of emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and officials work through the Kickstart Pickens County process.

When county council met on May 4, the emergency declaration was set to expire at midnight that evening. The declaration gave acting county administrator Ken Roper flexibility to make decisions on his own related to the county’s response to the pandemic.

“Do we have to renew that?” Councilman Trey Whitehurst asked.

That was up to council, Roper said.

“It’s really your discretion,” he said. “The things that we have done, or I have done under the emergency situation, some of them do extend under the kickstart program for a couple more weeks. I don’t really know that there’s any emergent situation that I need to respond to right now, unless we have some type of further outbreak. I’ll leave that totally to your discretion.”

Extending the declaration or allowing it to expire would “impact what kind of decisions I can make starting tomorrow morning,” Roper said.

“I no longer need the daily hour-by-hour adaptability to meet this response,” he said. “I’ve tried to be very limited in the way I used that emergency authority. There’s documents out there reflecting what I’ve done.”

Those documents are available online, Roper said.

“Some of the things that I have done, some of the actions I’ve taken during the emergency period, are going to extend for through the entire kickstart process,” he said. “I would just ask for you all to extend me some grace as we go through that. If you see a problem, please let me know and we’ll address it.”

An example of one of those ongoing decisions is inmate labor, Roper said.

“We don’t have any inmate labor,” he said. “We don’t anticipate that we’re going to have any inmate labor for the next month. That’s Department of Corrections that’s making that call.

In the meantime, the county has added up to eight temporary workers through MAU Workforce Solutions “to do groundskeeping and to do custodial that would normally be done by the inmate labor,” Roper said.

The state of emergency declaration allowed the county to move staff into different roles to respond to various county needs, Councilman Chris Bowers said.

“Do you think its beneficial to continue down that path?” he asked Roper. “Do you feel like until kickstart has truly kickstarted … those people need to be able to continue doing what they’re doing?”

Roper said he felt decisions made during the emergency would continue “until their natural conclusion.”

“For example, we’ve let the outside agencies know that through the three-phase (county reopening) system, they’re not going to have volunteer workers past (May 18),” he said.

Bowers asked if there was anything put in place during the state of emergency that would require “a true structural change” and a vote by county council in order to continue “if we don’t continue the state of emergency.”

“No, I don’t believe so,” Roper said. “I think it was necessary for those things to be begun, and now they need to wind down.”

Councilman Wes Hendricks asked Roper if he felt the declaration’s expiration would inhibit him from successfully doing his job.

“I don’t think so, or else I would have brought it up earlier,” Roper replied.

The “known unknowns” have dwindled, he said.

“We know what we’re going to do,” Roper said. “We know what we’ve been doing. If it weren’t that way, I’d be asking you for an extension.”

Having a government voluntarily give up some of its power sends a message, Whitehurst said.

“As a citizen, that makes me feel good,” he said. “Government rarely gives up power. As soon as they grab it, they hang onto to it for as long as possible.”

Allowing the county’s state of emergency declaration to expire “doesn’t mean the harm was passed,” Roper said.

It means the county’s need to be “flexible hour by hour” has passed, he said.

“Now we know what our response is going to look like,” Roper said. “I am more than happy to surrender that unfettered power back to you gentlemen.”