Gov. Brian Kemp said Aug. 13 he will withdraw his lawsuit against Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council over the city’s mask-wearing mandate and COVID-19 reopening guidelines.
Kemp said court-ordered mediation over the issue had stalled, so he would issue a new executive order on Aug. 15 with “relevant language” that would address the issue. Kemp’s current public health emergency order expires that day.
In explaining the withdrawal of the lawsuit, Kemp claimed Bottoms had “agreed to abandon the city’s Phase One rollback plan, which included business closures and a shelter-in-place order.” Bottoms replied on Twitter that she had not made any such agreement and noted that the “phase one” plan was always voluntary, not mandatory.
“In NO uncertain terms have I or the City abandoned ANY part of our roll back to Phase 1,” Bottoms wrote. “The advisory recommendations have always been voluntary. The intentional misrepresentation of this fact is shameful.”
The Kemp vs. Bottoms battle has revolved around a minor change in the city’s reopening plan that was misrepresented by both parties and most of the press. Last month, a standoff between the officials over Bottoms’ order mandating masks turned into a lawsuit when she ordered the reopening plan to move from “phase two” back to “phase one.” Kemp and Bottoms both presented that as a dramatic move from their differing political positions, but in both words and in practice it changed very little. However, press coverage led to confusion among some business owners who thought there were new rules in place.
The phased reopening plan that Bottoms is using has, all along, contained such restrictions as a ban on indoor occupancy of restaurants, which already was being widely ignored due to its voluntary nature and Kemp’s own reopening order. The rollback to “phase one” did not change any of those business restrictions; its only major difference was reinstating a prohibition against small private gatherings of 10 or more people. The mask-wearing mandate was a new order separate from the reopening guidelines, and Bottoms also ordered a prohibition of gatherings on city property.
Kemp argued that the city has no authority to make restrictions tighter than those he or state law set. The lawsuit had asked the court to block Bottoms from issuing any additional orders or press releases that mandate masks or other restrictions not allowed under Kemp’s latest executive order.
In a statement to the media, Kemp said:
“I sued the city of Atlanta to immediately stop the shuttering of local businesses and protect local workers from economic instability. For weeks, we have worked in good faith with Mayor Bottoms, and she agreed to abandon the city’s Phase One roll-back plan, which included business closures and a shelter in place order. Unfortunately, the mayor has made it clear that she will not agree to a settlement that safeguards the rights of private property owners in Georgia. Given this stalemate in negotiations, we will address this very issue in the next executive order. We will continue to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
Atlanta is just one of the municipalities in Georgia that issued a face covering mandate, and there is speculation that Kemp may allow city mask requirements to stand but with the stipulation that private businesses will not have to enforce them.
–Collin Kelley and John Ruch