Gaston County leader pushes businesses to violate governor’s order

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Chairman of the Gaston County Board of Commissioners, Tracy Philbeck, is pushing businesses to reopen, even if they’re not allowed to.

This comes after he tried to lift restrictions in the county last month.

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Philbeck’s actions aren’t something that police want to talk about publicly. Many departments rely on a vote from commissioners for money to hire and outfit officers.

Those Channel 9′s Gaston County bureau reporter Ken Lemon talked to in confidence encouraged business owners to follow the governor’s orders.

The chairman talked to Lemon Thursday by phone. He said the governor’s order to shut down businesses has gone on too long.

“The laws are unjust and they are not fair,” Philbeck said.

Philbeck believes business owners should band together and sue to overturn the governor’s order or ignore it. He said he doesn’t view it as a criminal act even though those who violate the order can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000.

“In mass I will support you opening up,” he said.

Philbeck said he supported the governor at first.

He even called for a shut down in Gaston County days before the state, but he said COVID-19 has not led to over run hospitals.

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It has caused mass unemployment and Philbeck said a slow tiered reopening won’t help.

“When you look at the economic impact of waiting it is devastating on our economy,” he said.

Danny Caudill is chairman of the county’s Democratic party and ran against Philbeck for his seat on the board.

He said there could be a resurgence of the deadly virus if business owners opened in mass, ignoring the governor’s recommendations.

“I think that it is dangerous,” Caudill said. “It can cause more businesses to permanently close instead of less.”

Philbeck said several businesses have all quietly reopened, but he wouldn't name them.

Other businesses told Lemon there is no reason to rush to reopen and put anyone’s safety at risk, so they’re preparing to reopen in compliance with the governor’s order.

In April, Philbeck announced Gaston County was ending its own stay-at-home order, but mayors in the county all came out against the decision and the Gaston County Police Department still enforced the order.