A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947

Our Opinion: Cooper wise to avoid restricting #ReopenNC protests

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THUMBS UP to Gov. Roy Cooper for explaining that his statewide stay-at-home order designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t prohibit public protests. 

After N.C. Capitol police officers arrested a demonstrator during the first #ReopenNC protest on April 14, attorneys for the group asked Cooper to clarify Executive Order 121, which doesn’t specifically address protests and demonstrations. 

The executive orders “provide room for outdoor protests to continue, just as they allow for the expression of other First Amendment liberties, including the free exercise of religion and the right to a free press,” William C. McKinney, the governor’s general counsel, wrote in an April 20 response.

McKinney wrote that protests can continue as long as demonstrators observe the 6-foot social distancing requirement. That strikes us as reasonable and prudent. While we don’t believe a blanket ban on protests would survive constitutional scrutiny, governments have the ability to impose some time, place and manner restrictions on free speech. 

A second #ReopenNC protest was held without incident, and on Thursday, Cooper extended the stay-at-home order to May 8 and outlined a staggered plan to reopen the state’s economy in three phases.

Cooper never intended to ban protests. Chalk the arrest up to ambiguity in his executive order and overzealous enforcement. We commend the governor for safeguarding North Carolinians’ First Amendment rights while trying to protect public health. 

THUMBS UP to Carolina Billiards owner Bill Houston, who’s organized several barbecue plate giveaways for first responders and others feeling the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects. 

Despite his business being closed for more than a month — Executive Order 118 required bars and entertainment businesses to shut down — Houston began offering weekly grab-and-go meals as a show of appreciation for those most affected by the novel coronavirus and the restrictions it’s brought. 

Last week, Houston and volunteers served health care workers. This Friday, he’s offering comfort food to barbers and hairstylists who have been out of work due to a COVID-19 executive order. Next week, utility workers and linemen are invited to partake. 

“This community is so good,” Houston told Times reporter Brie Handgraaf. “When I do stuff like this, I make it clear this is not just me because it is a community effort. People want to help.”

While he’s happy to share the credit, we thank Houston for planning and organizing the meals. It’s just one more way Wilson County businesses show that we’re all in this together. 

THUMBS DOWN to the Nash County Board of Commissioners for delaying sheriff’s office K-9s’ veterinary care in a spat with Sheriff Keith Stone over jail funding. 

The Times’ sister newspaper, The Enterprise of Spring Hope, reported last week that Dr. William Turbyfill of Riverside Veterinary Hospital in Rocky Mount wrote a six-page letter explaining why law enforcement K-9s need timely veterinary care. After the sheriff’s office forwarded the letter to county board Chairman Robbie Davis — and after The Enterprise started asking questions — Davis authorized vet visits to resume. 

County commissioners decided to increase their oversight of sheriff’s office funding in December as Stone made his case for a new Nash County Detention Center. Commissioners opted to renovate the current jail and build an annex for a cost of roughly $10.5 million instead of building a new jail, which could have cost more than $50 million. 

Delaying veterinary care for working dogs is inexcusable. Now that commissioners have made their point regarding who holds the purse strings and the jail issues have been settled, it’s time for Davis to lift any remaining budget restrictions. 

THUMBS UP to the Wilson Farmers & Artisan Market’s plan to open for the season on Saturday with a drive-thru format to alleviate concerns about coronavirus risks. 

The farmers market is limiting its wares to produce, plants, meats, cheeses, honey, smoothies and body care and soap products and allowing vendors to serve customers in their cars to ensure that Wilson County farmers and producers can sell their products without placing consumers at undue risk of contracting COVID-19. 

“We believe that now, more than ever, Wilson residents need access to fresh and local food,”  Susan Kellum, the city’s downtown marketing and communications coordinator, told Times reporter Drew C. Wilson. We agree. 

The market is open from 8 a.m. to noon each Saturday in May at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. Support local farmers by taking the time to peruse their products and stock up on fresh food from your car.