Over the last couple of weeks, many of us have noticed an increased level of tension and anger in our community. This is not unique to Fort Bragg and is reflected in nightly news stories and social media postings. As City Manager, receiving public input in all forms is my job. I also understand that “the City” or “the government” is an easier target for that frustration and anger. Truthfully, things are never black and white and it is almost impossible to strike the right balance, the feedback is often fair and offers a different but valid point of view. I signed up for it. But some of what I see and hear isn’t just blame or anger directed at government. It’s frustration taken out on those who are just trying to do their job, live by the rules and contribute to our combined health and safety.
There are a few businesses which have and continue to operate in violation of the shelter in place orders. But almost all of the local businesses the City has investigated are legitimately operating within the current and sometimes complex 14-page County shelter-in-place order. What each of us would define as Essential is not necessarily what the Health Officer has defined as Essential.
We all know that the City relies on the transient occupancy tax (TOT) and sales tax generated by the hotels and other local businesses. But so does the community. These businesses provide jobs, generate local income that is spent locally and contribute or sponsor many of our community events and nonprofit organizations. These folks are neighbors and friends who like all of us are just trying to survive COVID-19 and the economic aftermath of the shelter-in-place orders.
I have spoken with several hotel owners and operators who are trapped by the state and the county’s shelter-in-place orders. When they tell potential guests that they cannot rent them a room, they are yelled at, spit at and receive scathing online reviews. The Police Department has had to respond to several calls to handle these outraged “guests.” Many of the online travel services are still taking reservations. These applications aren’t set up to screen for essential purposes or to know when the orders will be lifted. So those who made the reservations are angry when they can’t check into the hotel and many local citizens are angry that hotels are still taking reservations.
When hotel operators go through the efforts to vet a guest to ensure that they are traveling for essential business, the guest is insulted by the intrusive questions and requests for documentation. Finally, if a guest is confirmed as on essential business, and parks in front of the hotel, some become the target of verbal harassment, social media posts and shaming. Same goes for the hotel who may be reported to law enforcement for violating the order.
Fair or not, the shelter-in-place orders require that many businesses have to assist with enforcing the orders. In government, this is our job – again we signed up for it. But it isn’t what clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, or restaurant workers agreed to do. Businesses have a significant list of social distancing protocols that they must develop, implement, post and enforce. Their staff, those folks working on the front lines so that we can continue to have food, healthcare and basic services must also enforce mandatory face coverings, good hygiene and six-foot distancing, just so the business can operate.
Please, these individuals do not deserve to have our frustrations or anger directed at them. Like all of us, they are trying to follow the rules, make a living and survive. They are not taking a political stand or making a statement; they are just following the law. Why are we fighting with each other? We should support our local businesses and their employees. We are all in this together and we should look out for each other.
— Tabatha Miller, City Manager, City of Fort Bragg