How many complaints has Seneca County actually received about local businesses not complying with Coronavirus Pandemic restrictions handed down by New York State?
The answer is about 200 overall, or approximately 60 since July 15, according to County Attorney David Ettman, who provided the data late last week. It comes out to an average of approximately five complaints per day since mid-July. There has been only one formal notice of violation issued, which was published in a May report, and a dozen formal warning letters sent to local businesses and national operations.
For the last several weeks there have been calls for Seneca County to be deemed “open for business.” A thread of emails obtained last week shows the extent of that disagreement among Republicans, elected and party representatives, who have led the charge.
Supervisor Don Trout, Republican Majority Leader on the Board of Supervisors, said the business community has been “very supportive” of the mask endeavor. In a recent request for comment, Trout said that he has heard from local businesses who think the threat of a fine simply goes too far. “I have heard from several businesses that think the fines are definitely over the line and certainly going too far considering our low rates of infection in Seneca County,” he said. “There have been many citizens that have expressed their concerns over the closure of so many businesses and summer activities like farm days, and playgrounds in surrounding villages and towns, they have expressed extreme displeasure that we as a board have not done more to keep our community open and offer more support to businesses in these difficult times.”
Trout added that the County should take a “business as usual” approach in response to the pandemic. “I personally think that we should of made more of an effort to continue business as usual and offered guidance to our local businesses on best practices to remain healthy throughout the pandemic, however these choices should be left up to the people and business owners,” he continued.
Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti, Democratic Minority Leader, said she received some calls at the start of the pandemic in March when there was more unknown on the table. “Unfortunately, executive orders coming from the Governor’s office sent out mixed messages and at times offered more confusion. Many of our questions went unanswered,” she explained. While she voiced concerns with economic recovery and reopening, Lorenzetti said a bigger question was those businesses who have opted to disregard the state’s mandates. “Most businesses in our county understand the reasoning and they work hard to follow the new standards and put best practices at the top of their priority,” she explained. “What worries me more, are the few businesses and few groups of people that don’t want to follow the guidelines and rules.”
She reiterated the County’s health department is prioritizing education and suggestions to keep businesses running. “What cannot be tolerated is when the small group who don’t want to follow the rules put the rest of us at risk,” Lorenzetti added. “Those people then should be fined or shut down. This is the mindset that will allow the virus to take over and thus we will be forced back to where it all began, making the climb up the mountain again.”
The Supervisor from Fayette said the virus should not be about politics. “There is more than enough blame that can be cast at the President and Our Governor, but this is the time when we all need to work together, move forward, and continue to follow the science and numbers.”
Supervisor Michael Enslow, a Republican who represents Waterloo, said some businesses feel like they are being targeted. “Especially in the Mennonite community,” he explained. “They do not feel there’s a good enough open line of communication.” He said the County needs to change that and send a message that it is open for business and available to support businesses. “Our community has been hit hard, we have lost businesses that will not be able to financially come back. We have businesses that are weathering the storm as of now and hopefully they can continue to pull through,” Enslow continued. “We need a clear set of guidelines that are designed and implemented for our region, not a one shoe fits all approach.”
However, internal disagreement among Republicans representing various parts of Seneca County was apparent that earlier-mentioned email chain, which was referenced in Chairman Bob Hayssen’s, a Republican representing the town of Varick’s, response to our request for comment. “I have been hearing comments by email, Facebook, GOP Committee, etc. accusing Seneca County of being responsible for closing down businesses in Seneca County,” he wrote in the email published in last week’s story. “We all know that is not true. They are not reopening or closing because of the actions taken by New York State and Gov. Cuomo, not the Government of Seneca County.”
It appears as though the calls referenced by Hayssen in his response, were born in an email by Seneca County Republican Party Chairman Tom Fox, who reached out to Republican leadership on the Board after hearing “grave concerns” about leadership on the board. “I have been hit from all sides as Chairman of the party as to what on earth is going on in our county,” Fox wrote. He said business people in the community have been getting harassed, and even some officials “sneaking around taking video and walking in to a restaurant, flexing a very strong and unprofessional attitude.” He goes on in the email, suggesting that businesses are being threatened with shutdown.
“These business are part of us; it’s our community no one should be threatened or treated like a common criminal especially for not wearing a mask or violating [an] order drawn up by a single person,” Fox added in the email. “For some reason Seneca County has become obsessed with caution and a run away train of violation of persons rights and freedom. People in positions have become power hungry and it seems to have gone to their head. This madness has to stop and we need to step back and take a breath of air here.”
He called for a Republican Caucus to be scheduled to discuss the party’s approach to COVID response. It is unclear when or if that meeting will take place. However, many of these issues were expected to be dealt with at the meeting of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Editor’s Note: Check out next week’s edition of The Gazette for a full-recap of the board meeting. To watch it live visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQvnobx8G-6CJzoa8UWJzyg.