Sonoma County Emergency Management Director Christopher Godley is facing statewide criticism this week for visiting a beach with his family, which had been closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
A family beach day against county and state orders
Director Godley, who has been in charge of the County’s response to coronavirus, visited a public beach in Sonoma County on Saturday, going so far as to post pictures of him and his family on his Facebook page with the caption “Road tripping up the coast. Beautiful drive and nice views. Family beach time together. Grateful for fresh air and the ocean.”
Sonoma County beaches had been closed to the public since March 23rd. An unexpected surge of visitors the previous weekend to parks and beaches in the county showed officials that safe social distancing could not be enforced in such places, forcing the closure. While state parks and beaches have remained opened, with only parking lots being closed as of Wednesday, counties do have the jurisdiction to close down places such as parks as needed.
Godley’s family had visited one of the beaches five days after the county closed the beaches.
During the past several days after the story broke, residents have come out either for or against Godley.
Godley himself has apologized for the visit.
“I own this,” said Director Godley in a Press Democrat interview. “Any reasoning or justification is going to sound thin. I seek the understanding and mercy of my community. The opportunity to grant just a moment of freedom to my family, given that they rarely see me. is not a justification, but it’s what was going through my mind at the time.”
A break for crisis workers
Many have agreed that Godley, who is currently working long hours to mitigate the coronavirus spread in Sonoma County and has led the county through disasters such as wildfires before with no deaths, does deserve some sort of break.
“If this was the doctor, in the midst of a battle for six days, and had one day off with family, would it be a sin?” questioned Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt. “I want my top people who are responding to this crisis to be of sound mind, body and health. And if that means going to the coast to feel better, I’m all for it.”
Other locals agreed.
“All of these doctors and nurses and everyone have been working non-stop,” explained Santa Rosa wine store owner Gerald Britt. “I think that maybe they do deserve to get out and enjoy a day at the beach. Most of us are cooped up, but they’re saving people.”
“I know I’m not mad at him, especially since he didn’t put anyone in danger.”
Growing criticism in Sonoma County
However his shelter-in-place violation has been heavily criticized by others, with a growing number of Sonoma County residents calling for his job.
“He used his position of authority to get something others couldn’t have,” said Santa Rosa artist Malcolm Schultz. “And even worse he went against what he had told people not to do. He was putting lives at risk so he could have a vacation with his family. It went against everything he was telling others not to do.”
“What the hell is wrong with him.”
Lawmakers in the county also expressed a similar position.
“To have him violate the public health order really goes against everything we believe in, which is that in Sonoma County no one is above anyone else, no one gets special privileges,” stated Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in an interview on Monday. “We should all be held accountable to the same rules.”
“It shouldn’t be, ‘I’m important, so I get a pass to go to the beach.’ Right now, grocery store clerks are incredibly important, and they have a very stressful job on the front lines of providing a critical service to the community.”
A growing call to fire and a need for emergency experience
The backlash has grown so large in recent days that a movement to remove Godley is also in the works in the county.
“A lot of us are pissed off. And guess what? We have a lot of time now and are very bored because some of us actually listen to state and county orders,” explained retiree Nicole Lang. “A bunch of us are trying to get something together to remove him. If he can’t even follow his own rules, what’s the point in keeping him around? I get he’s in the middle of a job, but he’s shown the county he’s just not up to it.”
“We need someone with a morale compass that points true north, not someone who tosses it out when it’s convenient.”
Despite a growing sentiment against him, Godley, as the head of Sonoma County’s Emergency Operation Center, will most likely be kept on, as his experience has seemed to help the county through so far.
Logan Harvey, the mayor of Sonoma, asked on social media recently “Why do you think it’s a good idea to fire the director of emergency services for the county in the middle of the largest emergency the county has every faces?”
It is unknown at this time what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken against Godley.
Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.