TUPELO • After poring over Gov. Tate Reeves’ supplemental executive order clarifying that local municipalities can enact their own, stricter safety rules, Tupelo leaders currently have no immediate plans to issue additional local orders.
Ben Logan, the attorney for the city of Tupelo, told the Daily Journal city leaders discussed the governor’s supplemental clarification on Friday morning and now believe the city can enact more stringent safety measures as long as any city order adopts the same minimum standards that the state has adopted.
On Tuesday, Reeves issued an executive order that defined essential businesses, banned social gatherings of 10 or more people, and closed dining rooms inside restaurants unless those businesses limit their total occupancy to 10 people and practice social distancing guidelines.
The order came after several Northeast Mississippi cities had already issued their own safety measures closing dining rooms completely and more narrowly defining essential businesses.
Several mayors in north Mississippi questioned the relationship between their orders and the state orders. After these questions arose, Reeves issued the supplemental order.
“Consulting with our state’s health experts, we have established a statewide standard of social distancing and defining essential businesses to slow the spread,” Reeves said in a press release. “There should be no confusion about my intent and commitment to protecting public health. We must come together as leaders, as a state, to ensure the health of all who call Mississippi home. We are all in this fight together.”
Before Reeves issued his supplement, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill believed many of the more stringent local measures they had issued were superseded by the governor’s Tuesday order.
Shelton, a second-term Democratic mayor, said he did not doubt Reeves’ intent, but believed the actual order contradicted the governor’s intent.
“That puts the city in a position of do we go by what the executive order is supposed to mean or what it does mean,” Shelton previously said.
With the supplement, Tupelo officials now interpret the state order as acting as “a floor” for all COVID-19 safety measures, and plan to keep non-essential retail businesses closed, as defined by the governor.
“The governor’s supplemental order allows us to step up except where it concerns essential businesses,” Logan said.
The governor’s executive order lists retail stores including “grocery stores and department stores, offices, factories and other manufacturing facilities” as essential businesses, but Logan said it does not define what a non-essential retail store is.
Thus, the city believes that with the governor’s supplemental order, it has the authority to close all non-essential retail stores. An example of a non-essential retail store, according to Logan, would be a comic book store.
However, Shelton’s administration is allowing retail business leaders to fill out a form and send it to City Hall if they question whether they are an essential or non-essential business.
If the city deems the stores as non-essential but the owner disputes the ruling, the business owner can fill out an exemption waiver form and appeal to the City Council for a separate ruling.
“During that period of (appeal) time, they could operate, but only under the guidelines of social distancing and 10 or less people,” Logan said.
Currently, the city of Tupelo has ordered that all residents shelter in place unless conducting essential tasks or traveling to an essential job. All non-essential businesses also must close in the city, with the governor’s definition of essential businesses in place. All citizens must comply with federal and state COVID-19 guidelines. Restaurants must close dining facilities unless they can comply with the exception of the 10-person limit and maintain social distancing.
The local order is set to run through April 17, the same time period as the state order.