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COLUMN: Coastal counties, Governor go overboard on helping in “state of emergency”

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.


Bless it, there are few things I despise as much as a declared state of emergency. The very definition, “a situation of national danger or disaster in which a government suspends normal constitutional procedures in order to regain control,” irks my entire being.

Whether it be from the feds, the state, or a local government, it’s just a can of worms that causes problems. No matter how many times parameters surrounding these states of emergency are “tweaked,” the implementation always seems to highlight a bureaucratic and regulatory disaster – pun intended.

Just a few weeks ago, we saw the Governor single-handedly cause the gas shortage as he capped gas prices when the pipeline burst. Instead of allowing businesses to increase their prices and limit the purchasing power of consumers, price gouging was prohibited and gas stations were empty in a matter of hours. Had the government not intervened, the effects wouldn’t have been nearly as severe.

Hurricane Matthew, however, has illustrated that states of emergency and the powers granted through declarations only deter people from complying in the future. The wide latitude given to our elected officials makes the mere thought of “authority” concerning to many. Consider a few of these examples:

This weekend, as eager residents worked to return home to assess damage, we watched helplessly as they encountered obstacle after obstacle to get back to their own property. First, it was the requirement of a valid state ID with the current home address to get past a certain milemarker on I-16 East. If your ID didn’t have your current address, a copy of your lease or mortgage bill was necessary – as if everyone, amid the chaos of evacuating, remembered their housing documentation. A ruckus was raised by unprepared citizens and that idea was tempered to a degree.

Then we saw outrage as Glynn County lifted the ‘state of emergency’ declaration and reopened access only for state troopers to block bridges at the direction of the Governor – even after local deputies begged for them to allow citizens to cross the bridge. It even applied to citizens who hadn’t evacuated but left the county for supplies. No re-entry at all based on a decision from our state executive some 300 miles away. Several hours passed and with pressure from the media and local officials, finally, the ban was lifted – but not without hours of hassle and cars full of residents with nowhere to go.

More recently, the City of Savannah has shown just how far the authoritarian orders can reach well after the storm has passed with their maintenance of city-wide curfew for residents.

Initially, it was said that the nine-hour curfew would be in place until October 15th, a whopping 8 days after the Hurricane hit, but following an inundation of complaints from residents and business owners looking to restore some sense of normalcy to the town, the tune is changing.

Still, city officials and those close to them posted on social media that the curfew couldn’t savannah-curfewbe lifted until 90% of the power was restored. Oddly, it doesn’t say that anywhere in the code of ordinances for the coastal city. According to their local ordinance regarding curfew, 4-3-4002, curfew rules are as follows:

In order to preserve, protect or sustain the life, health, welfare, or safety of persons, or their property, within an area in the City of Savannah designated in a declaration of emergency, it shall be unlawful for any person to travel, loiter, wander, or stroll in or upon the public streets, highways, roads, lanes, parks, or other public grounds, public places, public buildings, places of amusement, eating places, vacant lots, or any other place in the City of Savannah during the declared emergency between the hours of 9:00 p.m. on any day and 6:00 a.m. of the following day, unless otherwise specified, until the curfew is lifted by the mayor and aldermen of the City of Savannah.

So, instead, the tourism in the town remains quelled until an arbitrary number of residents have power and businesses continue to suffer losses.

The government. They say they’re here to help, and I’m sure countless citizens are thankful for the preparation and the clean-up of the storm, but can’t those things still be accomplished without the overreaching hand of government?

The coastal counties have proven they don’t need a formal protocol to get things moving in the right direction after a natural disaster. Will there still be fraud and crime and a hint of chaos? Yes. But no state of emergency will ever eliminate any of those problems. If it did, we’d live under the declaration of one indefinitely.

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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