Our Opinion: Mayor Stevens shows leadership on coronavirus

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THUMBS UP to Wilson Mayor Carlton Stevens for showing leadership by sharing facts, fighting misinformation and uniting the community in the effort to halt the spread of coronavirus through his daily Facebook updates.

On Sunday, Stevens began condensing local, state and national information on COVID-19 and sharing it to his friends and followers on Facebook. He started his first post with a personal message to Wilsonians concerned over the global pandemic.

“I know this is a very difficult and confusing time for all of us,” Stevens wrote. “We have not had an event such as this my entire life. I know the unknown is the most unsettling part.”

After touching on school closures, the city of Wilson’s response to the virus, Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for social distancing, the mayor closed with a reminder to “pray for our city, our children, our families.”

Stevens’ Monday update included questions from constituents along with his answers. He shared information about community meal programs for students who may otherwise go hungry, explained that the city’s customer service center remains open with drive-thru service and batted down a hoax about a mandatory national lockdown.

The daily updates are proving popular — the first one garnered 201 comments, 248 shares and 601 likes as of Tuesday morning.

By helping to keep Wilsonians informed, remaining visible and accessible to city residents and sharing a responsible message of caution and determined optimism, Mayor Stevens is using his platform to make a positive difference.

THUMBS DOWN to elected officials who are implementing or setting the stage for heavy-handed crackdowns on business and personal travel in the name of coronavirus response.

Six counties in the San Francisco Bay area have imposed “shelter in place” orders that ban all nonessential travel and direct residents to remain in their homes. While the orders don’t require government permission to leave, they direct police and sheriff’s deputies to “ensure compliance” and include the threat of misdemeanor charges.

A news story in the San Francisco Chronicle called the orders “the strictest measure of its kind yet in the continental United States.” But the Illinois city of Champaign might give the Bay Area a run for its money.

The Champaign City Council voted last week to approve an ordinance granting emergency powers to the mayor and city manager. At their whim, these executives could declare a mandatory curfew, require businesses to close, prohibit the sale of guns and ammunition, shut off public utilities and even seize private property.

None of those measures are in place, but they smack of the kind of creeping authoritarianism that leads to martial law.

We oppose the use of force against peaceful people during natural disasters and pandemics. Civil liberties forfeited during an emergency aren’t easily regained. Threatening people with arrest and incarceration for making one trip to the supermarket too many is no way to govern in a free society.

To be clear, we urge people to heed health officials’ advice — practice social distancing and avoid gathering in large groups. But draconian measures don’t encourage personal responsibility; they spark panic and sow discord. They are counterproductive. Voluntary participation works just fine.

Power-hungry officials in California and Illinois could learn a lot about leadership and communication from Wilson’s mayor.

THUMBS UP to state Sen. Rick Horner, who received the Nash County Republican Party’s Faye Eagles Volunteer of the Year Award last week for his contributions to the local GOP and to the communities he represents.

Horner, R-Nash, will leave office at year’s end. He opted not to seek reelection in Senate District 11, whose composition has changed three times in the past six years due to court-ordered legislative redistricting. In his second term, Horner co-chairs the Senate’s education committee and has been a tireless advocate for North Carolina’s public schools.

The senator first elected to represent Wilson and Nash counties has continued looking out for Wilson even though our county was drawn out of his district, which now includes Nash and Johnston counties. Horner secured a $200,000 budget appropriation to help Wilson County build a new animal shelter.

We applaud Senator Horner for his dedicated service and effective representation in the General Assembly. He’s been an asset to Nash, Johnston and Wilson counties alike.