By Al Dozier
Despite the governor’s order banning restaurants from serving food on-site, the Irmo Town Council Thursday approved a resolution that supports the opening of the town’s restaurants under certain guidelines.
In response to that resolution, some Irmo restaurants happily opened up outdoor seating for customers on Friday.
The resolution, passed unanimously during an emergency council meeting, has raised questions about the legality of the council’s action.
But on Friday, just 24 hours later, Gov. Henry McMaster announced outdoor dining would be allowed throughout the state beginning May 4. He also announced the mandatory Home or Work order would no longer be required.
The governor’s original order enacted March 18 allowed businesses to sell food and beverages only for off-premises consumption through carry-out or drive-thru distribution, curbside pick-up.
It did not mention outdoor dining.
At Thursday’s council meeting, Councilman Erik Sickinger expressed concerns about Irmo permitting outdoor dining, noting that the town attorney advised him that the council could not take actions contrary to the governor’s orders. But he finally decided to vote in favor of the resolution.
When asked about his conversation with Sickinger, Town Attorney Jake Moore confirmed that he said the town cannot over-rule the governor.
But he also noted that the town was simply adopting a resolution supporting the opening of the restaurants, which is perfectly legal.
The council’s action would suggest that the state could take action to stop the opening of the restaurants. But Irmo Mayor Barry Walker Sr. said McMaster told him in a phone conversation that he would not oppose the move.
Walker admitted the council may be “jumping the gun” but found it necessary to help struggling local businesses cope with the coronavirus crisis.
The resolution recommends that customers dine outside only. Tables have to be six to eight feet apart. Also, restaurants must provide patrons with silverware and condiments that are individually packaged. It also recommends that restaurant employees have their temperatures checked.
Kerry Powers, executive director of the Greater Irmo Chamber of Commerce, said the restaurants located within the town of Irmo can now make the choice to open if they have outdoor seating available and take the appropriate precautions such as those outlined by the CDC in regards to social distancing.
“It’s a beautiful day to sit on a patio and eat a great meal,” she said Friday.
Restaurants, bars, hair salons, nail salons and other close-contact businesses have unfairly suffered the brunt of the shut-down, she said. Many of these businesses do not have a revenue source unless they are open and working.
“I support Irmo Town Council and I hope they will continue to work with the Governor’s office to open our state quickly and safely,” she said.
The Irmo Town Council is also considering setting up an Economic Development Corp. to help provide relief to local businesses affected by the coronavirus. Walker said several businesses have been adversely affected and need some help.
Walker is proposing the appointment of board members to a proposed Irmo Economic Development Corporation that will establish financial support by negotiating with lenders.
The town has previously had an Economic Development Corporation, but town officials say it’s uncertain if that organization could be reinstated.