Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Denver Borough's council was among municipalities that opposed the county's plan to reopen. Instead, council decided against passing a resolution challenging Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order.
At least four municipalities, including two led by Republicans, are rejecting the GOP-led effort to defy Gov. Tom Wolf and partially reopen Lancaster County this week.
Elected officials in Ephrata, Columbia, Marietta and Lancaster city have taken stands in opposition to a plan to begin gradually allowing businesses to open before Wolf lifts the most severe restrictions on the county.
In Ephrata, Republican Mayor Ralph Mowen cast a tie-breaking vote on Monday to oppose a resolution that would have supported the county’s early reopening. He raised questions about the borough's authority to defy an order from the governor, and about whether local Republicans were playing politics.
Thirteen Republican elected officials - U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, the entire Republican state legislative delegation and two GOP county commissioners - wrote a letter to Wolf stating they are prepared to move the county from the “red phase,” the most restrictive of Wolf’s reopening plan, to “yellow” on Friday.
“I quite honestly wonder if the governor was Republican, if they would have done this,” Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen, a lifelong Republican, said.
Republicans control borough council in Ephrata, Denver and Columbia. Democrats control the councils in Marietta and Lancaster city.
“I just don’t feel that they are prepared to make the move, and I think it was political and not science-driven,” Mowen told LNP | LancasterOnline Wednesday.
Wolf has extended stay-at-home order in Lancaster and other counties until at least June 4.
In recent weeks, nine other local governments in Lancaster County have supported an early reopen here.
LNP | LancasterOnline contacted almost all 60 of the county’s municipalities Wednesday. Of those that responded, at least nine support the county’s approach, while at least five favor the governor’s guidance.
Walter Todd, Colerain Township supervisor's chairman, said the township voted last Wednesday, May 6, to go along with the county. "We read through it and we felt under the circumstances with most all of the deaths being in convalescent homes ... and everyone taking care of things, it would be better" to reopen, he said.
Todd blamed nursing homes, saying they "dropped the ball completely on this," adding his wife had spent seven months in a nursing home and he worked to improve conditions in them.
Glen Mazis, Marietta council’s president, said council voted unanimously Tuesday night to support the governor's reopening plan. "Safety and security was most important," he said, adding council contains a mix of Democrats and Republicans.
Noting the governor has said he may withhold federal funding to counties that defy his shutdown order, Columbia council President Heather Zink said, "Our borough cannot afford to lose that money.”
Noncompliance could jeopardize state funding as well, putting projects such as the Market House renovation at risk, she said. A $1.75 million state grant is supposed to cover half the cost of the market and nearby parking improvements.
Denver Borough councilmembers had similar concerns.
“We shouldn’t go down an illegal road,” councilman Todd Stewart said.
West Hempfield Township passed a resolution earlier this month seeking the immediate reopening of the county, however the vote occurred before the county's letter to Wolf over the weekend.
“We are not encouraging anyone to do anything contrary to the law, but we also understand that the law is a little complicated at this point,” township Manager Andrew Stern said.
A handful of municipalities don’t have meetings scheduled until after the county would reopen. Officials elsewhere said they weren’t taking up the issue.
"I don't think we're going to take a stand either way on that," said Salisbury Township Supervisor Lester Houck.
He noted about 80 percent of the township's residents are Amish, with many now able to return to construction work. The township has brought its road crew back full time. A local municipality's position “really doesn't matter” because it's a county and state issue, he said. "I don't want to be in the position of a governor or a county commissioner and make those decisions."
While not voting on a resolution, East Earl Township decided, given the county’s intent, to resume normal business hours on Monday, May 18. The office will again be opened to the public with face masks required for entry. Staff will also be required to wear masks when in contact with others and continue to practice social distancing protocols.