Council debates, refuses to pass mask ordinance

Jeff Guy
A motion to enact an ordinance requiring the wearing of masks in public places, died at the Wellington City Council meeting for lack of a second.

A motion for a mandatory mask ordinance in public places in the city died for lack of a second motion to pass it during the special Wellington City Council meeting, Sunday afternoon. Council member Joe Soria made the motion that the ordinance be passed.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to say no to this," Soria said. "It's not about rights. It's about slowing it down."

Other council members, while encouraging the wearing of masks, did not want to want to make it a mandate.

“I highly recommend wearing masks, but again it’s your personal choice,” council member Robert Hamilton said toward the end of the meeting.

Council member Guy Leitch said, "I understand maybe there is a need for masks. My bottom line is this is still the USA. It should be a matter of choice."

No council member seconded Soria’s motion and it was not voted on.

“The motion dies for lack of a second,” Mayor Jim Valentine said. “God help us all.”

Just prior to Soria's motion, Mayor Jim Valentine had asked the council to pass it, saying when he signed on as a city council member in 2007, it was to ensure the “health, safety and welfare” of the community.

"That’s what we’re here for, to protect this community and you’re not going to do it by letting things slide,” Valentine said. “I’m going to ask this council, in the name of God, pass this ordinance. In the name of God, do your duty."

Council member Kevin Dodds said he agreed “up to a point” about the city’s responsibility to provide health, safety and welfare. He mentioned the city’s responsibility to provide clean drinking water.

"I believe where our responsibility ends is where we try to mandate personal choice,” Dodds said. “And I do believe this is a choice. If a mask makes people feel safer, more comfortable, then by all means wear one, but I refuse to endorse any kind of mandate that tells someone they have to.”

Council member Jennifer Heersche said she had been struggling over the issue for the past couple of days.

“I’m absolutely all for people protecting themselves, wearing the masks to protect themselves and the people surrounding them,” Heersche said. “As for mandating something, I just don’t feel that’s legally a right we can take away.”

Council member Mike Westmoreland said he had also struggled over the issue and that he wears a mask “when I have to.

“I believe we need to get the businesses of the city involved and let them make that choice,” Westmoreland said. “If they want to require people in their stores to wear masks, I believe that’s on them.”

The proposed mask ordinance, which would have been in effect until modified by the governing body by repeal or extension, were to be reviewed no later than Aug. 18.

Police would have been responsible for enforcing the mandate, had it passed. Not wearing one would have been a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense and $100 for the third offense.

There were exemptions to wearing a mask in the proposed ordinance, primarily that anyone with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability which prevented the wearing of a mask would be exempt. The hearing impaired or persons communicating with the hearing impaired where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication would be exempt.

Children under the age of 5 and primarily those under the age of 2 who would be at risk for suffocation would be exempt from wearing a mask.

In comments before the meeting, Wellington Chief of Police Tracy Heath and Wellington Fire/EMS Chief Tim Hay spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think masks are a good deal,” Hay said.

Wellington physician Dr. Larry R. Anderson, who spoke in favor of masks and said, “We’re fighting a war and unfortunately people will die.”

Hamilton said self-governance is working, with people self-quarantining and wearing masks.

“People are self-moderating their own lives and I don’t think it’s my job to force someone to wear something if they don’t want to,” he said.

Before adjourning the meeting, Valentine said, “The federal government is working right now on a mandate for masking America. To those up here who feel the way I do, we have lost this battle, but eventually we will win. At what cost I don’t know.”