Comptroller Peter Franchot has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for Gov. Larry Hogan to find a way to allow restaurants to offer more than just takeout service.
Franchot is the latest public official to call on the governor to find a way to allow restaurants to open in some larger fashion. Under the current executive orders in place for nearly two months, restaurants have been limited to takeout, delivery and curbside service — not enough to support most of those businesses.
“We should sooner rather than later experiment with allowing the restaurants to reopen their direct business not just their curbside,” said Franchot. “I say that not in an effort to be cavalier about the health issue. I’m just saying this particular sector really needs a little bit of attention. I think if we do it gradually and based on data as the governor and lieutenant governor indicates we’re operating under, I think that would be very important to do.”
Reopening those businesses to some form of sit-down service doesn’t come until phase two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to gradually reopen the state.
Franchot, in his comments at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works, praised Hogan for his leadership but called for a special effort for the restaurant industry.
“We cannot keep these restaurants completely throttled because none of them are going to be able to survive,”said Franchot. “Can we do something that respects the density, respects the location, even in Montgomery with some of these restaurants. I’m afraid right now we’re in a situation where in many parts of the state they’re just going to be strangled to death. They’re never going to reemerge based on the current thoughts.”
Calls to move faster to reopen businesses, especially restaurants, have come from every corner of the state. Ocean City officials called on the governor to allow restaurants to reopen before Memorial Day. In Baltimore, restaurateurs in Little Italy lashed out at Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young for delaying their ability to open. Local leaders are allowed to be more restrictive but cannot be more permissive than the governor’s orders.
Franchot said his “sleeve is tugged all the time” by owners begging to get back to work before their businesses close for good.
“My response to them is ‘no public health no economy,'” he said. “You’ve got to have people feeling confident that they can go out and engage in economic commerce, and right now that is very up in the air.”
Franchot said operators in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties should also be allowed to join in.
Those two jurisdictions combined account for one of every two COVID-19 cases in the state. Leaders in those jurisdictions have continued state-at-home orders even as larger parts of the state have moved into phase one.
“We also might consider opening up small Main Street, mom-and-pop retail stores that have less than 10 employees because we can monitor that,” said Franchot.
Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who along with Franchot is on the Board of Public Works and is from Montgomery County, said the different parts of the state need to be able to move more slowly even if that means businesses remain closed.
“I would hope the governor would be more positive and stronger recognizing the fact that there is a need for different parts of the state to act differently. Prince George’s County is not western Maryland,”she said. “When people act irresponsibly, they’re just not endangering themselves, they’re endangering others. While we rely on people to use good sense we rely on the leader to lead them, too.”
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who chaired the board meeting, said ideas forwarded by Franchot have been under discussion with Hogan and his advisory panels.
“All of us I think have liked the ideas, particularly down here in Annapolis,” said Rutherford, noting that Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley has discussed ideas that including closing off Main and West streets to allow small shops and restaurants to move outside.
“I think that would be really nice to do,” said Rutherford, but he did not say when or if such a decision was forthcoming from Hogan.
“All in due time,” he said. “Patience is a virtue.”