© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Mecklenburg Mayors Disagree On How Soon To Reopen

Mayor John Aneralla of Huntersville
David Boraks
Mayor John Aneralla of Huntersville

Gov. Roy Cooper's decision Thursday to extend a statewide stay-at-home order until May 8 averts a showdown over whether Mecklenburg County should extend its own order. Mayors of the county's six towns disagree on how soon to reopen. 

County manager Dena Diorio had asked the governor for a two-week extension, in part because there was no consensus among local leaders to renew the county order. Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla was a roadblock -- opposing any extension. He said it's about being fair to small businesses. 

"We have to start the economy moving forward," Aneralla said. "The government can't continuously loan money to businesses to keep them up and running, and you know as well as I the smaller companies are kind of the last ones to get anything." 

Matthews Mayor John Higdon
Matthews Mayor John Higdon

Aneralla isn't alone in wanting the state to reopen. Matthews Mayor John Higdon also hoped that Cooper would relax restrictions when the original state and county orders expire April 29. He said Thursday he likes the governor's promise of a phased reopening, but is disappointed that it's not happening sooner.  

"I don't necessarily think that only our big-box retailers have the secret recipe on how to operate safely," Higdon said. "I think they've actually identified what the safety protocols are. They've done us a big service, but I think that should be now moved to some of our small retailers." 

Still, Higdon said he understands the need for a gradual approach.  

"As the governor said, I don't think it's wise now for us to be opening restaurants, where people would be in confined spaces densely packed, or gyms or things of that nature," Higdon said.

But he said they should reopen as soon as they can put the right safety and social distancing measures in place.  

Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox
Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox

Other Mayors Support Cooper

On the other side of the debate is Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox. 

"I'm a small businessman myself -- I'm a real estate broker," Knox said. "My industry is gone right now. So I'm sympathetic with everybody else, but at the cost of human life, I don't think this is the right move to open up at this time." 

His stance on the question comes despite the fact that Davidson has no big chain stores -- only small businesses. To him, this is an argument about public health. 

"If you look at the trending now, we are still going up with the number of hospitalizations and the number of cases being reported," he said. "And I think that will continue to increase as we increase our testing. But I think now is not the time to reopen." 

Knox thinks the governor made the right call. So does Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. 

Woody Washam
Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam

"I believe he's taken a really serious look at both the data from the health care systems as well as the economy, and I think my reaction is that we can work with this," she said.   

Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam said he supports keeping the order in effect -- for now, though he's concerned some local businesses are on the brink of failure.  

"Glad to see the extension. I think we needed a slight one, not a major one," Washam said. "But you know I'm all about getting our businesses open, as long as we can do it safely." 

But Washam wants officials "to keep pushing the envelope" to get businesses reopened. 

Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.

Sign up here for The Frequency, WFAE’s daily email newsletter.

What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.


David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.