Governor Cooper’s Thursday afternoon announcement that his stay-at-home directives will last until May 8, if not longer, was a display of shallow leadership that has plagued his public appearances over the past month and in the process is contributing to what may become a fiscal disaster for the state.
Using vague criteria, the governor described three phases for the “gradual” reopening of the state. The first involves maintaining his stay-at-home order until May 8 while allowing some retail stores to re-open. The second phase, to start no earlier the May 23, will allow for removal of the stay-at-home restrictions and the opening of restaurants and bars, churches and entertainment venues, all with tight occupancy limits yet to be determined. And then the final phase with no specific date, will relax social or spatial distancing requirements at large public venues.
There is no question the governor should be concerned about the physical health of the state’s residents; this he has shown is his only priority. Unfortunately, the governor’s obsession on this one priority has overwhelmed his other responsibility for showing leadership out of the crisis.
In yesterday’s announcement, as in all of his public appearances, Cooper failed to be transparent in his decision making and unwilling to provide details. This lack of transparency is either an indication that he doesn’t trust the public with the details or that he and his staff do not have a grasp of those details and thus are not making them public.
The more troubling aspect of the governor’s approach to the crisis is his failure to provide a pathway towards economic recovery. The single minded approach the governor has taken to control the contagion is akin to a doctor so focused on killing a disease that the overall condition of the patient is only secondary. This analogy applies to the governor’s announcements which never address the economic impacts of his restrictions. He is so focused on controlling the lives of North Carolina’s residents that he has totally ignored the economic impacts that will also eventually damage both the physical and fiscal health of its citizens.
The state’s economy, maintained primarily through private sector investment, is at a near standstill. If action is not taken quickly to reinvigorate the state’s private sector economy North Carolina will be in a financial depression of historic proportions.
What is needed is leadership providing private and public entities a pathway towards reopening. This requires intense planning and disclosure which are absent in all of the governor’s public appearances.
Soon after the pandemic was identified the governor established a Coronavirus Task Force, co-chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Cuevo Tilson, chief medical officer of the state’s Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) and Mike Sprayberry, director of the state’s emergency management. The committee consists of representatives of public health, medicine, law enforcement, emergency management and state bureaucrats. Gary Salmindo, president of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, is the lone business representative on the task force.
The absence of business leaders in this task force is an indication that the governor sees no reason to be concerned with the state’s economy at this stage of the crisis. This failure to engage the business community is proof that Cooper lacks understanding that leadership should address problems broadly.
Time is not on our side when it comes to the fiscal health of our state. Without an aggressive exit strategy from the heavy economic restrictions instituted by the governor, North Carolina will experience economic destruction that will take decades to repair. The time for the governor to lead is now, but there is little time left.