Blythewood Council closes Manor, park, playground indefinitely

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Blythewood town council held an emergency council meeting at 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 18, at Town Hall and voted to:  1) close all town government facilities to the public indefinitely, 2)- lock the doors on town hall to the public (staff may work in office or telework, but will return phone calls and emails),  3)cancel all public government meetings indefinitely

These changes were to take effect immediately.

The story below appears in this week’s paper and is a review of the two special called meetings March 12 and March 16 that were held prior to the final emergency meeting on March 18 meeting.

The Voice will follow up online and in print with more information as it becomes available.


BLYTHEWOOD – A special town council meeting was called on March 12, to discuss how the town government should move forward with regard to public events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Council members voted unanimously to go ahead with two events scheduled over the next two days that they said were on course to draw thousands of visitors to Doko Park, pointing out that the two Fests’ attendance numbers could swell over estimates after many other events in the area had been cancelled.

Four days later, on March 16, after an estimated 2,000 people attended the Doko Rib Fest and Doko Film Fest, Council held a second special called meeting at the Manor and voted to close all town facilities with the exception of town hall until March 31. The park, playground and Manor (that had several scheduled weddings in March) would be closed. Town hall would be open, continuing to provide services. Walk-ins, however, would be discouraged in favor of phone calls and emails. Town hall employees would be allowed to work from home at the discretion of Town Administrator Brian Cook.

That vote also required all town hall facilities, including the playground, to be professionally cleaned and sanitized after the closing. The playground would be cleaned and sanitized again prior to being reopened to the public.

There was also some consideration during the March 16 meeting about the possibility of closing town meetings to the public in the future if the COVID-19 crisis worsened and providing live stream video with an option for the public to call or email/text questions to council during the meeting.

At the prior March 12 meeting, Mayor Brian Franklin said he had some concerns about allowing the Rib Fest and Film Fest to go on in the park. Council had awarded a total of about $20,000 to both events.

“So we thought it prudent to come together with precautionary measures, learn a little bit about this virus and how it may or may not affect Blythewood and area citizens, but more importantly to alleviate any fears we may have about gatherings,” Franklin said. He said he was following the Governor’s lead in calling on citizens to not cancel their events.

“I agree that I don’t see the need to have a knee jerk reaction and immediately cancel events,” Councilman Donald Brock said. “I’m the least concerned with the outdoor events. It seems like common sense should prevail. If you’re sick, stay home. Let everyone make their own decisions.”

Councilman Eddie Baughman agreed. “If you’re sick, stay at home. We’re asking people to just take care of yourself. That’s about all we can do,” Baughman said. “We’re grown adults. We know we can either go or stay at home.”

Councilman Larry Griffin said he leaned toward erring on the side of caution – to shut the events down.

“In the beginning I was willing to roll with it, but now I’m torn. Do we want to put ourselves in position to have a rash of COVID-19?”

Newly elected Councilman Sloan Griffin, Emergency Manager with the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), was given the lead by Franklin in presenting the health and safety ramifications of leaving open or shutting down the festivals.  Franklin pointed out that, as part of (Sloan) Griffin’s work, he meets with the Governor regularly for COVID-19 updates.

“We need to follow the heartbeats of the folks around us,” (Sloan) Griffin said. Besides bringing council up to speed on the virus and the constantly changing effect it’s having on the Midlands, (Sloan) Griffin explained DHEC’s strategy in preventing the spread of the virus and encouraged council to follow suit, noting that the Governor, at that time, had encouraged communities to not cancel events.

At the second special called meeting on March 16, however, council members leaned more quickly toward closing the town’s facilities to all gatherings, including weddings at the Manor.

“We may turn some brides into bride-zillas,” (Sloan) Griffin said, “but I think we need to close things down for at least two weeks. We need to provide for town hall staff to work at home and take care of their families while we continue to provide their pay and benefits.”

Council will not meet for its regular monthly meeting on March 23. There will be no town government meetings until further notice.