A Special City Council meeting on Monday, March 23rd brings the strictest regulations yet to certain businesses in Sapulpa—though still not as strict as some had wanted.
In a 5-4 passing vote, the City Council voted to allow local restaurants to continue to operate their dining rooms, but they would require no more than four people per table, and the tables must be spread at least six feet apart.
The back-and-forth in the meeting was a microcosm of the larger philosophical debate between individual rights and government involvement: at what point should the government step in and limit the free market?
Councilors were split on whether or not the city should step in and enforce a mandatory closing of dining rooms. Bruce Bledsoe said that he doesn’t feel like it’s the government’s job to “tell people what to do,” while Carla Gunn said that after seeing the behavior at one of the local bars, “(It) makes me feel like someone needs to come in and say what to do.”
Councilor Wes Galloway objected to the idea of closing certain sectors of business. “This is going to ruin a ton of businesses in Sapulpa.” Riley maintained that the goal was not to close businesses completely but to prevent people from congregating and increasing the risk of spreading the virus. “You cannot prevent being affected by coughs and sneezes. What you can prevent is the gathering of people in the first place,” she said.
Six local business people spoke, five of them owners with over 100 years of combined experience, including:
- Ed “Tex” Slyman, owner of Freddie’s BBQ & Steaks (30+ years)
- Joe Krout, owner of the Pat’s Place building
- David Mortazavi, owner of Steak & Eggs (26 years)
- Shaun Fisher, manager of Anytime Fitness in Sapulpa
- Dena Engle, owner of Dena & Company Spa, Salon, & Gym (30+ years)
- Michelle Smith, owner of Big Chief’s Donuts
Mortazavi told the council that if they were going to close dining rooms, they should extend the restriction to more than just restaurants and bars. “You close the restaurants down, it’s just going to drive people to QuikTrip,” he said. “Then what’s going to happen at QuikTrip?”
Slyman brought up a newly-updated Declaration of Emergency just enacted today by the City of Yukon, Oklahoma, pointing out similar regulations, including using every other table, chair or station at a bar, a hair salon or a barbershop, and that restaurants were limited to six people at a table and instructed to put “closed for service” signs on the tables that were not being used.
It was after Slyman spoke that the Council began to discuss a way to find a middle ground between closing all the restaurants’ dining rooms and continuing on with no changes.
Vicki Beyers, who’s been on the council only a short time, spoke about gratitude towards healthcare workers on the front lines and proactive business owners. She (and Gunn and John Suggs, who attended via teleconference) said she veered towards medical expertise in favor of individual rights in this one instance, as it is, after all, an emergency.
“General welfare of its people is a government’s responsibility. We have never, any of us, lived through a pandemic of this proportion.” In the end, when choosing between the economy and the people, Beyers says she’ll go with the people.
Ultimately, the decision came down to allowing the dining rooms to stay open with additional restrictions. John Suggs voted against the motion, saying it didn’t go far enough. “Whatever economic challenge that has been presented, whether as Americans or Oklahomans, we have come back from it,” he said. “But we can’t come back from people dying. We can’t bring lives back.”
The resolution passed with the following amendments:
- Restaurants and bars can have dine-in customers as long as they practice social distancing and have 4 or fewer people at a table.
- Gyms, spas, salons, etc., can stay open also with social distancing guidelines and so long as the business has sanitation and disinfecting practices in place between each customer.
- These new regulations end at the same time as the original proclamation on April 6th.
Vickie Beyer, Craig Henderson, and John Suggs voted against the motion, saying it was too lenient. Wes Galloway also voted against it but said it was too strict. Marty Cummins, Carla Gunn (after much hesitation), Bruce Bledsoe, Mayor Pro Tem Lou Martin, Jr., Hugo Naifeh voted in favor of the motion.
Micah Choquette contributed to this story.