Officials: Despite calls to reopen businesses, Butler County doesn’t have that power

State Rep. Candice Keller implored the Butler County commissioners Monday morning to follow Preble County’s lead in declaring all businesses essential and reopening the economy, but the commissioners were advised they don’t have the authority.

Keller, a Republican from Middletown, openly criticized Gov. Mike DeWine and health director Dr. Amy Acton for issuing orders that limited business after declaring a state of emergency.

“Executive order is not law, it is simply an order reinforcing an existing law,” Keller said. “According to our Ohio Constitution and consulting with some constitutional attorneys, in Ohio the legislature must declare a public health emergency by a two-third vote in both houses for there to be a declared public health emergency, and in Ohio we have not done that.”

RELATED: Preble County Commission calls all businesses ‘essential’

Keller noted that in a county with almost 400,000 residents the numbers just don’t warrant the continued harsh restrictions. Butler County General Health District statistics show as of Monday there have been seven deaths, the latest was a man in his 70s from the 45014 zip code which is mainly Fairfield. There are 332 confirmed and four probable cases.

Keller said she was acting on behalf of all of her constituents who are suffering irreparable harm from the virtual lockdown.

“The residents of Butler County are overwhelmingly suffering and want Ohio and more specifically Butler County to reopen immediately,” Keller said. “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 economy of Butler County is made up of an enormous amount of small businesses that cannot take much more of this without a total and complete collapse.”

Commission President T.C. Rogers said there are many things that need to be considered, such as the potential legal ramifications of passing a resolution declaring all business essential and encouraging them to open. He also noted Preble County did not take any official action, like a passing such a resolution.

“I for one don’t want to do anything just for symbolism,” he said. “All of us have many, many, many friends which are dealing with this closure and I’m glad you have some evidence it wasn’t right… We want to do it but we need to find out how.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she wants to help businesses.

“I hear what you’re saying with the local businesses, it’s gonna be tough. As I drive out here it’s like I’m in the middle of a 1950s horror movie,” Carpenter said adding she is aware of the “devastation” but “we have to move carefully and we do have to ensure we’re protected when we make decisions like this that are going to leave us open to lawsuits.”

Keller said the Ohio House will be back in session on Wednesday and she expects them to take some action. As for the commissioners declining to take action.

“It is easy to say that you’re concerned about a lawsuit, but when you’re talking about a person’s livelihood they are quickly losing their patience,” Keller said. “As a state legislator we are concerned about lawlessness, about looting, about violence and in this particular case the vitriol that I’m seeing and you probably see, it is not getting a little bit worse daily it is doubling daily.”

Commissioner Don Dixon received a phone call during Keller’s speech from Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser, and he announced the board doesn’t have the authority to do what Keller wanted.

Gmoser told the Journal-News that Keller was incorrect about DeWine and Acton’s ability to issue a public health order to protect against spread of the virus. The commissioners, he said, have no power to change those orders.

“It is not within their power to pass a resolution contrary to the directives of the director of health,” Gmoser said.

Keller told the commissioners she believes the legislature will take some action when it returns to session on Wednesday.

MORE: West Chester trustees implore Gov. DeWine to ease restrictions — in the township

State Rep. George Lang visited his former colleagues in West Chester Twp. last week and told the trustees he believes the business community is better equipped to make business decisions than the state.

“It’s my opinion and my belief that free markets and free people know better what to do than government does…,” Lang said, noting he and some other state representatives sent a letter to DeWine recently with some recommendations. “We think businesses should be open as soon as possible with as few restrictions as possible. Businesses know best how to protect their employees, their customers and their vendors.”

The trustees passed a resolution pleading with DeWine to reopen businesses. State Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., was also at that meeting and cautioned the trustees against sending “any decrees from on high” to the governor.

“You might be sending it to the wrong place,” Coley said. “When you say, ‘Hey we want our businesses to open,’ well do all your businesses have access to test kits, do all your businesses have access to personal protection equipment. Have all your businesses structured themselves in a way they would not cause harm to their employees or people that were to enter their place of business. Have you thought of those things.”

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