COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Lawyers at a Columbia firm have sent a letter to county and city officials requesting a repeal of Boone County's COVID-19 reopening order on behalf of several businesses.
Matthew Woods and Thad Mulholland of Eng & Woods sent the letter Tuesday, requesting the Columbia/Boone County health department rescind its order. The Boone County order differs from the state order by requiring some businesses to stay closed and placing occupancy limits on businesses other than retail.
Woods and Mulholland represent nearly 30 Boone County businesses that feel that Stephaine Browning, the Columbia/Boone County health department director, does not have the authority to impose an order inconsistent with a statewide order, according to the letter.
The lawyers state in the letter that these businesses want the Boone County order to match the state order signed by Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
"The main goal would be to restrict the city and the county's ability to discriminate on who's essential and who's not essential," said Justin Conrad, Nash Vegas Bar owner.
Businesses such as gyms, churches, restaurant drive-thru services and others may reopen with an occupancy limit depending on the building's fire code limit under the local order.
“I think people who are vulnerable should stay say back," Woods said. "If you don't feel comfortable going to work and don't go to work. I think the employer needs to understand that. I rely on a good sense of people in Boone County and they've got their own minds, they can make them up for the best interest of their own business.”
The letter states that the local business owners understand COVID-19 is a serious health issue and that the order is based on data from Columbia and Boone County's experience. However, the lawyers point out the number of new COVID-19 cases has dropped.
Only five active cases remained in Boone County on Tuesday.
The businesses believe the order causes a disadvantage in providing goods and services for the community, according to the letter.
"She (Browning) just overnight has this control to make it or break it for so many people," Conrad said. "And I just think she's in a position where I'm sure she understands the health side of it but she obviously doesn't understand the economic side of it."
The lawyers also contend that state law says local health directors do not have the authority to close a place of assembly during a pandemic. They assert that only the state director can do so.
Browning cited data on cases in other counties in the region as part of the reason for keeping more strict regulations in place. However, the lawyers contend that the reopening order does nothing to stop those people from entering the county.
Woods and Mulholland in the letter have requested a meeting with city and county officials.
“We're hopeful that between now and Friday," Woods said. "Which is the deadline that we have given, we would like to meet and discuss all of these and see if that order can be rescinded voluntarily, and everyone go about their business based upon an order that affects everyone."
ABC 17 News is contacting officials for their reaction. Check back for more on this developing story and watch ABC 17 News at 5 and 6.