GOLDSBORO — On Wednesday, July 15, NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley led a roundtable discussion with business owners, three county commissioners and state Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin) at the Pizza Inn restaurant in Goldsboro.
At the outset, Whatley said he wanted to hear about the real-world impacts on local businesses and “what is really going on” across the state.
“We don’t have a plan besides extending the lockdown three more weeks,” Whatley told the group. “Face masks are a tool, not a plan. The governor is not coming out to listen to the people of the state.”
The Goldsboro Pizza Inn owner, Jill Poythress, said the Pizza Inn business was started by her father and celebrated their 50th anniversary earlier this year during the coronavirus pandemic. Poythress said she also owns a boutique in downtown Goldsboro.
“Why is the hospitality industry being pinpointed as the evil business out there? I don’t get it, that’s the biggest question I have,” said Poythress. “We’re no different than any other business. We can do the social distancing, masks, gloves, and that’s no different than before. We could have done this from the beginning.”
Poythress detailed some of the extra precautions she has taken to keep her restaurant open. She said that out of pocket costs have been in providing sanitizer stations, frequently changing out utensils, and having one-to-two extra people per shift focused solely on cleaning while food costs and mandates from the state have been “astronomical.”
“My father taught me to always take care of our customers,” Poythress added. “We’re not Raleigh, we’re not Cary. We know how to take care of our customers and the governor should get out and see more of us in the rural areas. There comes a time when we say enough is enough, we need to get the economy going, employees back to work and students back in school.”
Jerol Kivett, a Sampson County commissioner and co-owner of a local furniture business with his wife, Telia Kivett, said as a county commissioner, it has been difficult to play when they don’t know what’s going to happen fiscally and school-wise moving forward.
“Our revenue sources down, sales tax down, and the fact that early on, you could go to Walmart but can’t go to church… It’s killing the morale of our people. We need leadership,” Kivett said in the discussion.
“In our county, we have two out of three households getting a government subsidy, and that impacts us in a lot of ways. Down the road, people won’t have money to pay their taxes. Sales taxes are way down, and a lot of that revenue goes to schools,” Kivett added.
“We are already strained as a rural county, with 63,000 people, and one of the largest, by land counties, in the state. We just don’t know what it’s going to be down the road,” said Kivett.
Telia Kivett added that as a second-generation business owner, “We’re seeing problems, business are closed and want to reopen, but they can’t. We’re all hurting, it’s time we all step up and tell Gov. Cooper what we’re going through is hurting everyone.”
Jerol Kivett added that the NC Association of County Commissioner’s president, Kevin Austin, sent a letter to Cooper in early March as it became apparent that the pandemic was going to be a serious problem. He said that a response to that letter from the governor didn’t come until May.
“The governor made clear doesn’t want input from local or legislative leaders. He basically said, ‘I got this,’ and ignored the offer of help,” said Kivett.
Two Wayne County commissioners — Joe Daughtery and Ray Mayo — also discussed the impacts they have seen on the local level.
Mayo said Cooper was displaying “the most politically-motivated leadership I’ve seen in my lifetime” during the pandemic.
Daughtery echoed that sentiment, saying, “We’re being led using fear. I have seen Wayne Memorial Hospital almost go bankrupt, losing a million dollars a week because of no elective surgeries.”
He told the group that, in March, a local doctor told him they needed to procure refrigerated trucks to handle the number of dead bodies in the county, based on what they were being told.
“It’s all on the shoulders of the governor. He’s using fearmongering to prevent us for operating,” Daughtery said.
Daughtery also said the state needs to let the public know how many confirmed COVID-19 cases were asymptomatic, noting that a significant number of the cases at the state prison in Wayne County reported no symptoms.
“We asked prison officials, how did you know so many of them had the virus? The answer was, we tested everyone. So the question is, how serious are these cases?” Daughtery wondered.
Dixon said he has requested the “raw, unadjusted data” from N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services for months because of how NCDHHS is presenting it to the public. He pointed to how the number of deaths in nursing homes is telling a different story than what is being portrayed.
Dixon also said after the event that one of the biggest issues he hears from business owners is the $600 additional benefit from the CARES Act. Dixon said employers have employees taking advantage of that, knowing their job will be there, and end up making more money staying home than working.
“As a business owner, we need to know why we’re staying in Phase Two, but he’s just not telling us. The announcement can’t drop on a dime open or close,” Poythress said in closing. “My biggest fear is we don’t know what to expect next. We can’t find people who want to work right now. We need five or six more employees, they work for a week, then leave and file unemployment. The system is broken.”