‘Are you asking for concurrence in something the Governor has already announced?’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper gave statewide elected leaders only 30 minutes to agree to his Wuhan virus shutdown plans for bars and restaurants. Then, without debate or discussion, he closed them anyway.
The heavy-handed tactic was revealed in a series of emails obtained by WBTV through the North Carolina Public Records Act. But it took a lawsuit and the support of 26 other media outlets to pry the email records from Cooper and the state Department of Health and Human Services.
North Carolina has 10 statewide leaders known as the Council of State. It consists of six Republicans and four Democrats, including the governor.
The Council of State meets about once a month and rarely votes on controversial issues. But on March 17, that changed when a lawyer for the Department of Public Safety emailed Council of State members about a new executive order. The email came at 11:25 a.m.
At 12:42 p.m., a second email from the same government lawyer requested agreement on two items: expanded unemployment benefits and closing bars and restaurants to indoor dining.
Council members had just 33 minutes to decide the fate of thousands of businesses, employees and families in the restaurant and bar industry.
“The Governor respectfully requests your concurrence on these matters by 1:15 p.m. on March 17, 2020,” the DPS lawyer concluded.
According to the newly obtained email records, the council’s three other Democrat members sided with Cooper on both items.
None of the Republicans agreed to close bars and restaurants, though the email records that were produced are either incomplete or do not show the final vote count of all members. Regardless, the Cooper administration continues to hide the answer.
Four Republicans—Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey—agreed to expand unemployment benefits.
Forest is currently challenging Cooper’s re-election campaign in the state’s November gubernatorial race.
Republican State Treasurer Dale Folwell doesn’t appear to have rejected the unemployment proposal, but he explicitly questioned Cooper’s shameless handling of his soon-to-be executive order.
“To repeat: The Governor himself needs to address compliance of #1 with the Council of State for there to be a motion,” Folwell wrote in one of several responding emails.
“The Governor needs to set up a process to discuss and amend Item #2 in order to potentially UNIFY the NC Council of State against COVID 19,” Folwell added.
The state failed to produce any records about how Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson voted. Nor did it produce any responses to Folwell’s repeated requests for a vote count.
But every Republican on the council expressed concern about the magnitude of Cooper’s plans and the absurd amount of time to reach an agreement.
“I feel this needs further discussion,” said Causey.
“In #2 are you asking for concurrence in something the Governor has already announced?” Forest asked.
“On Item #2, Commissioner Berry would like to have been afforded the courtesy of commenting on this item before it was made public,” wrote Berry’s chief of staff.
Ultimately, Cooper’s executive order was issued with the appearance of Council of State knowledge and consent. And now that the ruthless tactic has been exposed, Cooper says he never had to consult the council in the first place.
“As a reminder, for the March 17 order limiting sale of food and beverages to take out, drive-through and delivery, the order did not require concurrence as the Governor and the Secretary of DHHS have the authority to do this under state public health and emergency powers law,” an attorney for the Department of Public Safety told WBTV.