The group overseeing the reopening of the region’s economy was shocked to learn Thursday night that Phase II will not occur at midnight as expected.
Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, chairman of the St. Lawrence County legislature, said the governor’s office told the control room group that Phase II would not commence until a group of “international experts” analyze the metrics of the initial reopening before the next step can happen.
“It wasn’t that we were surprised, but we were shocked,” he said.
At a 2 p.m. control room meeting with county officials in the north country and surrounding regions, staff from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said phases of reopening would project naturally in two-week increments.
At about 7 p.m. on Thursday during another control room meeting, county officials were told there would no longer be phases and the governor would control the reopening by executive order, said Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.
“The timing of the whole process defies any logic whatsoever that you can tell us something and then 29 hours later, change what you tell us,” Mr. Gray said. “He crashed the whole system.”
Mr. Gray said the governor has said repeatedly that he would shift control to county legislators in the north country and beyond. But now, Mr. Gray said he doesn’t know what to tell employees and business owners. Phase II is no longer set to begin Friday as scheduled.
Later Thursday night, Mr. Gray talked to the governor’s office once again in an attempt to work through this issue. Cooler heads prevailed and the opening seems to be back on track for possibly Saturday, although he’s “hesitant to promise anything,” Mr. Gray said in an email.
He hopes lingering issues with hair salons and test kits have been worked out.
“They listened and were responsive and hopefully we have a positive path forward,” Mr. Gray said. “Admittedly, I was angered and rightfully snapped but diplomacy still works.”
Some officials in other regions are reportedly going to proceed with Phase II, despite the governor’s assertion that the metrics would be examined by the experts.
Retail businesses, hair salons, furniture stores and the Salmon Run Mall in Watertown were all anticipating reopening in Phase II.
“We were told at the eleventh hour this wasn’t going to happen,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “Everyone in the room was surprised.”
The group of experts will now review the metrics for the north country and other regions slated to begin Phase II of reopening before they can proceed, Mr. Lightfoot said.
Mr. Lightfoot doesn’t know who the experts are, what makes them experts and how they will determine whether the metrics have been met in the north country.
Control room members were still asking questions about why this is happening and what it meant when “the governor’s people” ended the conversation and “the phone went dead,” Mr. Lightfoot said.
He has no idea how all businesses will be told Friday that they can’t reopen. He expected that some businesses will not hear the news and reopen as planned.
“I get the healthcare portion of this,” Mr. Gray said. “I have been the one communicating that message, but we should have seen something before now. We should have not waited until last minute. We should have given people logical and concise message why they can’t open.”
All day, Mr. Gray was awaiting word on the guidelines for exactly how businesses could open, but those guidelines never came, only the news that the next step wasn’t happening.
Phase II was going to follow the reopening of the manufacturing and construction sectors and curbside sales for retailers that began two weeks ago.
Under the previous plans announced by the governor, restaurants could resume full dining service, not just takeout meals, curbside pick-up and deliveries.
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, took to Twitter on Thursday night saying the evening’s new was an “embarrassing and inexcusable failure” by the governor.
This is an embarrassing and inexcusable failure by Governor Cuomo (one of many during this crisis) to listen to local leaders that NYS designated as the Regional “Control Rooms.”How truly Leftist. Name groups “control rooms” only to wrest any local control away from them. https://t.co/aQRnO6alCt— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) May 29, 2020
Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, issued a statement Thursday night saying that north country businesses have been through enough, only to have the governor pull this at the last minute.
“Businesses have worked tirelessly to implement safety measures to safely reopen tomorrow. To tell them tonight we aren’t moving on to Phase Two — just hours before they expected to reopen — is indefensible,” she said.
“Businesses cannot wait any longer and I support efforts for them to safely move on to the next phase, as promised.”
The governor’s action on Thursday underscores the need for the state Legislature to take immediate action to restore its powers as a co-equal branch of state government, she said.