LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Chairman Carrol Mitchem has been cited for defying N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s Phase 1 orders by opening the dining area of his family-owned restaurant on Monday.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office cited Mitchem for openly violating North Carolina Executive Order 138, issued on May 5 by Gov. Cooper.
Mitchem owns and operates Mitchem’s Kitchen, located at 6649 West Highway 27, in Vale, NC.
Mitchem received complaints from the public, and after an investigation, deputies issued him with the citation.
“I may not personally approve of all the Emergency Orders issued by Governor Cooper but North Carolina General Statute allows provisions for Governor Cooper to issue orders during a State of Emergency,” Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam said. “ NC General Statute 166A states, local law enforcement SHALL enforce these orders."
Mitchem is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 9.
Mitchem posted a message on his Facebook page Sunday stating that the dining room in his restaurant - Mitchem’s Kitchen - would open Monday morning.
“Attention our dining room will be open to customers starting tomorrow,” Mitchem’s post read, “Come see us!!”
“At a certain point and time I felt like it was an issue and someone needed to stand up," Mitchem told WBTV outside the restaurant on Monday, "so I took that step yesterday when I once heard that the churches were opening up I thought, ‘well maybe the time and opportunity for me to do that too,’ so I decided to open my dining room to the public.”
“Everybody is happy, they’re real happy about it and they’re glad that somebody took a stand to go against the order of the governor, which not all law is order,” he continued.
Under Phase 1 of North Carolina’s Stay-at-Home orders, restaurants are to serve curbside and pick-up orders only.
WBTV stopped by the restaurant Monday afternoon and saw that indeed the dining area was open. Nearly every table had customers seated.
“Governor Cooper has the authority under 166A to remove elected officials,” Sheriff Beam said. “No law enforcement officer has the authority to decide which laws are and are not constitutional. The NC courts and ultimately the Supreme Court makes these decisions. I have written Mr. Mitchem a citation for violation of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 138.”
Mitchem was praised by people who flooded his restaurant on Monday.
Even two former legislatures from Raleigh stopped to show their support.
“We have to support folks like this who stand up and stand out people who stand up for their Constitutional rights and their ability to make a living." said former Majority Leader in the North Carolina House Mike Hagger.
However, not everyone in all of Lincoln County was supportive.
Even so, Mitchem was pretty clear he wasn’t budging.
“I plan on being open," Mitchem said. “I don’t plan on closing unless I’m forced by somebody, and if they want to write a citation, that’s fine with me write it. That don’t bother me.”
Melinda Holl, an employee at Mitchem’s Kitchen for 22 years, said she was happy to be waiting tables again and to see her customers.
“I haven’t worked in two months," Holl said. "I’ve worked up front, but I haven’t done my job.”
Customer Tammy Wright was also happy the dining area was open.
“I wanted to eat the food, and then I saw on Facebook where they were opening the dining room back up, so I wanted to actually come in and sit down,” Wright said. “We haven’t done this in a while and my feeling is that everything should be opened back up. If you want to go eat, go eat. If you don’t want to go eat, then don’t go eat, but we should have this option to come eat.”
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office confirmed they had received complaints about the restaurant being open and said it was under investigation. They did not provide any other details or say what action may or may not be taken.