Analysis: Mayors set local path on coronavirus response

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi mayors are responding to the coronavirus pandemic with stern warnings about the importance of social distancing and friendly reminders of good health practices like keeping clean hands.

Gov. Tate Reeves has said many times that the coronavirus response is federally funded, state supported and locally executed. That means mayors have lots of power to make decisions. Some mayors have butted heads with Reeves over local restrictions, including on the closure of bars and restaurants in cities before the governor set statewide limits.

As the economy falters and tax collections fall short of expectations, city leaders are making tough decisions about curtailing local government jobs and services.

In Oxford, Mayor Robyn Tannehill and the Board of Aldermen voted Thursday to furlough 135 city employees and to suspend curbside pickup of recyclable items to save money. Tannehill, a Democrat, told The Oxford Eagle that the decisions were “gut-wrenching.”

“Probably the most difficult decisions that we’ve ever made as a board,” she said.

Tupelo leaders plan to save money by eliminating travel for city employees, stopping the purchase of new vehicles by city government and not filling vacant city government jobs, the Democratic Mayor Jason Shelton told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Mississippi legislators will face larger-scale decisions about state spending. They have suspended their session because of the pandemic, but they face a July 1 deadline to write a state budget for the year that begins July 1.

Reeves set a statewide stay-at-home order that took effect the evening of April 3 to try to slow the spread of the virus. It originally was supposed to expire Monday morning, but Reeves on Friday extended it by a week — until the morning of April 27. He is allowing businesses such as florists and clothing stores to offer delivery or curbside pickup.

The governor said he will keep considering steps toward a broader reopening of economic activity.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has extended his stay-at-home order until April 30 in Mississippi’s largest city.

“I want our residents to know that the City of Jackson is not standing idly by as we deal with this pandemic,” said Lumumba, a Democrat.

In Gulfport, Republican Mayor Billy Hewes and other city leaders have indefinitely extended an 11 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew because of the virus. In a message posted to Facebook on Friday, Hewes thanked people for abiding by restrictions on their movements.

“It is hard, and after a few weeks of this nobody likes it. None of it do,” Hewes said. “But it may give us an opportunity now to get on a glide path out of this in the next few weeks or months where we can get back to some sort of normalcy.”

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Friday that all city government employees will return to work Monday and will have their temperatures taken to screen for the virus, according to video posted by the Vicksburg Post. He also said the city will provide masks for its employees. First responders in Vicksburg will continue to be paid time-and-a-half wages during the pandemic.

Flaggs served as a Democrat in the state House, was elected mayor as an independent and has gone out of his way to praise Republican President Donald Trump on several occasions. Flaggs said Friday that he will pay attention to guidance the White House has given governors about taking multiple steps to reopen the economy.

Lumumba in Jackson and Tannehill in Oxford have helped distribute free hand sanitizer that was made by Cathead Distillery. The Jackson-based business switched from making vodka to making the hand sanitizer as COVID-19 started to spread in the United States.

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