A newly signed executive order from Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst will allow restaurants to operate outdoors as they return to business under a controversial state reopening decision amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Brookhaven restaurants that opt to reopen can apply for a “Temporary Outdoor Restaurant Operations Permit.” With the temporary permit, restaurants can seat patrons in tents and parking lot areas to comply with social distancing measures.

“With this executive order, restaurants have a unique strategy they can utilize to reopen, yet do so responsibly,” Ernst said in a press release. “For those that can’t or won’t, I strongly recommend that all businesses utilize the recommendations of the [DeKalb County] Board of Health and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], even though the state of Georgia requires less.”

“For the next 90 days, Brookhaven will embrace alfresco dining,” Ernst said.

The permits will allow restaurants to set up 10-by-10-foot tents for covered seating in their parking lots. Applications are available by emailing planning@brookhavenga.gov.

During an April 27 virtual town hall with City Councilmembers Madeleine Simmons and John Park, City Manager Christian Sigman said the outdoor dining permit is among the ideas officials meant when they previously referred mysteriously to a city “stimulus package.” To city officials, Sigman said, the term means “stimulating interactions” without providing money because the city is too small to do that. Temporary changes to the sign ordinance is another “stimulus” move under consideration to help businesses, he said.

All city and local governments can continue to issue executive orders and legislation guiding how their communities reopen, but the state government has the ultimate authority to lift stay-at-home orders and remain restrictions on businesses. Ernst’s executive order is not enforceable, but it does provide suggestions and strategies for restaurants to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

“We as a city cannot mandate anything more or less than the state’s order, but we can make the best of a bad situation,” said Ernst.

The Brookhaven City Council declared a state of emergency on March 16, shuttering dine-in service at restaurants and closing some other businesses. That was superseded April 3 by a more limited shutdown order from Gov. Brian Kemp.

“Brookhaven was the first city to declare a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Ernst said. “Now that the state of Georgia has enacted a statewide mandate to reopen businesses, this clarifying language and executive order gives restaurateurs solutions as we collectively fight to contain the virus.”

Ernst has been a critic of Kemp’s reopening order, saying he fears Georgians could be “guinea pigs… fed to the snake.”

–Ryan Kolakowski with John Ruch

Update: This story has been updated with information from an April 27 town hall and with application information.