Batesville aldermen mulling what businesses are ‘essential’ including factories

Published 8:06 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen met briefly, by teleconference, following this afternoon’s press conference held by Gov. Tate Reeves to announce a statewide Shelter in Place order.

Aldermen have been given a list (more than five pages long) of all businesses in Batesville. They agreed to look at the list tonight, and then meet at 10 a.m. Thursday to consider designations of essential and non-essential businesses.

Many of the businesses in Batesville, like others statewide, clearly fall into one of the two categories, but dozens are in gray areas, and whether they may be allowed to stay open during the two-week sheltering period is unclear.

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Also unclear is how much authority the local aldermen have to make decisions about which are essential and which are not. Asst. board attorney Colmon Mitchell advised the mayor and aldermen he would need a few hours to research the facts of today’s gubernatorial order before offering his counsel.

Alderman Teddy Morrow reminded the board the Governor’s order doesn’t take effect until Friday at 5 p.m. Local boards across the state will have an opportunity to address these issues for two days before making decisions for their respective municipalities.

The city will also take up discussion of how local factories are responding to the overall effort to help curb the spread of coronavirus among the city’s population.

Four factories have already announced closings. Those are Thermos (closed until May 1), Toyoda Gosei (will evaluate April 20),  Anderson Technologies (evaluating weekly) , Parker Hannifin (closed until Monday and will re-evaluate then),  and GE Aviation (closed for 30 days beginning Monday).

GE will bring a small crew back to work in two weeks to produce some essential products.

Anderson Technologies is performing weekly evaluations and will continue that process.

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar updated the board at the 5 p.m. meeting after spending much of the day in direct contact with local industry leaders.

Crown, Cork & Seal has completely sanitized the entire facility recently and Parker Hannifin will do the same at that factory before Monday.

Other factory sites in Batesville and throughout the county have embraced, and are using, the guidelines recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

All local factory leaders have agreed that best practices for contributing to the coronavirus eradication include checking temperatures of employees arriving for each shift.

Debate about what are essential and non-essential businesses and factories across the state will be a hotly-discussed topic by many city boards. Some have noted that Gov. Reeves said only “life-sustaining” essential businesses should remain open, leaving open avenues for local boards to force the shutting of some manufacturing operations.

Azar said he will provide aldermen with a list of the city’s industries at the Thursday morning meeting with descriptions of what is manufactured at each facility, and how each one’s products are thought to be essential. Azar will also present each industry’s essential business designation letters.

Several will have automatic exemptions and be allowed to remain at full production, including those who support the transportation sector or have current contracts with the U.S. Defense Department.

Batesville city officials have expressed concern about the number of employees reporting for shifts at factories. Most retail outlets that will be allowed to stay open will be limited to 10 customers, according to previous edicts,  but dozens of workers are together in local plants. Azar said that some industries have addressed this matter by staggering employee arrival and departure times per shift.

Aldermen are also concerned about the large number of factory workers that commute to Batesville from high-infection count counties each day. On the other hand, Azar said, almost half of Winchester’s workforce drives from Panola County to Oxford each day.

The Panolian will post an update following the Thursday meeting, and hopes to provide a complete list of essential and non-essential businesses tomorrow.