We’ve asked now for a number of weeks, and we still haven’t heard a convincing answer to this fundamental question: why are some local town halls and city halls still closed to the public?
Most municipal governments shut down a year ago, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. But unlike private business and industry and even many other aspects of government, several local governments remain closed a full 12 months later.
City hall in the county’s largest city, Burlington, is open. So is the one in Mebane. And, of course, the county government’s offices are open, as are most of the offices for the local court system. And even the schools have reopened.
But in Graham, Haw River, Elon, and Gibsonville, the town halls are not open to the public.
People typically trudge to their city halls to pay their water bills, property taxes, etc. But in these four local municipalities, they are met with locked doors.
Meanwhile, local businesses of all sizes (in these areas and others) have long since returned to work.
So why are certain municipal employees somehow privileged characters who are not expected to serve the public?
Even more incongruous, each of these town halls is replete with plexiglass barriers – with only small openings – that prevent much physical contact, even when the municipal building is open.
Apparently some jurisdictions are more concerned with the preferences and “protection” of their employees than with serving the members of the public whose taxes pay all of their salaries.
The latest excuse for staying closed in Graham and Haw River is that the municipality is waiting for employees to get vaccinated – if they desire to do so – before opening back up to the public.
Interim Graham city manager Aaron Holland is not responsible for the city’s shutdown, except to the extent he has perpetuated the closure for the past month since he took over. But, quite frankly, we cannot understand the continued delay in – even resistance to – reopening in Graham and smaller jurisdictions.
“We’re providing staff the opportunity to receive both shots with the 2 week after-shot timeframe,” Holland told us this week, “so we’re in the midst of that as we speak.”
Asked why Graham is has remained closed when other jurisdictions are open, Holland insisted, “I really don’t know what others are doing, and it’s really up to them to choose to open or not. We will err on the side of caution due to the cases we had to deal with,” he says, “and proceeding in this manner is the approach that we chose for our employees.”
Haw River town manager Sean Tencer echoes a similar sentiment, emphasizing that it is not necessarily safe for town workers to meet the public.
Unfortunately, even the explanations emphasize that the primary consideration in being closed is the respective municipality’s employees, not its residents.
Surprisingly (to us, at least), Tencer says there’s been not the first complaint about the town hall being closed.
The towns of Elon and Gibsonville aren’t currently planning to even try to reopen their town halls until at least June!
You’ll pardon us if we guffaw the next time any official in one of these closed-down jurisdictions tries to whine about how overworked the staff is.
From our perspective, it’s too bad that citizens in those areas don’t have a choice to discount the amount of taxes they pay to offset the lower level of service they’ve received over the past 12 months.
It’s high time for these towns and city to rejoin the rest of the county, the nation, and the world in learning to live and operate in the midst of the pandemic.