The mayor of Cummings, Georgia is apologizing after announcing that the city would be hiring up to 150 “special police officers” to patrol the city in plainclothes looking for violators of the town’s new social distancing measures.

Mayor Troy Brumbalow announced earlier this week that anyone caught within six feet of another person not related by blood or marriage could be arrested and face up to 180 days in jail, along with a $1000 fine. An immediate backlash ensued, and early Wednesday, Brumbalow took to Facebook to declare that the order was being rescinded.

While the intent of the order was to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19, it is obvious that a large portion of our public doesn’t want government mandating the recommendations of public health officials. A huge sticking point of the order was the appointment of special policemen to help enforce the order. Under the city charter, the mayor can appoint special policemen during times of emergency. I said in our press release that I would swear in up to 150 policemen. I was looking at a worst case scenario caused by the pandemic as our police department has 18 officers. I can see that I didn’t communicate our thoughts and intentions clearly enough. People reacted strongly on social media thinking we were becoming a police state. That was never the intent. While I didn’t write the press release, I approved it and take full responsibility.

Furthermore, the penalty was a maximum of $1000 and/or 180 days in jail. Many people don’t speed for fear of the fine. We were hopeful that this would cause people to really think about social distancing. Our officers would much prefer to educate than write a citation for this. I spoke to the manager of one of our big chain stores on Tuesday about their long lines to get into their store because they were limiting the number of patrons inside. This caused a distancing problem outside and they couldn’t offer a remedy. We couldn’t fix the problem without an order that had an enforceable offense. While I think the intent of the order was for the health of our citizens, the delivery was bad. I own that and take full responsibility.

While I’m the mayor, I don’t consider myself a politician. I can’t answer a question without giving an answer. I’m plain spoken, love this community and can admit when I’m wrong.

To that end, there is no longer a social distancing order in the city. Please keep a safe distance, wash your hands and be mindful of everyone else.

While I understand the mayor’s desire to ensure that people are practicing social distancing measures, what on earth did he think was going to happen when he told residents that dozens of “secret police” would be keeping an eye out for social distancing scofflaws? Cummings is a small town of about 6,000 people. Most people know everyone in town, so the idea of their neighbors “snitching” on unmarried couples holding hands or walking too closely together was bound to generate a heated response.

Brumbalow says the “intent” was never to become a police state, but that would have been the result. I’m glad to see him quickly back off his proposal, but it never should have been offered in the first place. If the mayor is concerned about the impact the coronavirus could have on the 18 members of the Cummings Police Department, perhaps he could have asked for volunteers for help, instead of threatening to put them in jail.

I do believe that we have to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously, but that doesn’t mean we can simply stand idly by when politicians go overboard or ignore the Constitution in their attempts to manage the public health crisis. I’m glad Brumbalow reversed his social distancing order, but I’m even more appreciative of the residents in Cummings who spoke up about the original order once it was announced.