City Council rejects mask mandate with no action
By Ken Childers
By taking no action on the issue, the Okemah City Council rejected a proposal to make face masks mandatory for citizens when they are out in public.
The agenda for Monday’s regular council meeting included discussion and possible action to adopt a new city ordinance requiring the use of face coverings, with some exceptions, and other measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Under the proposed ordinance, those who violate the mask mandate would be subject to a $100 fine.
The proposal was put on the agenda at the request of Mayor Mike Fuller, who recently said not to expect such a mandate from the council.
“I had asked for it to be put on the agenda, to find out just for my own peace of mind where this council sat as far as mandating the use of masks. There seems to be a lot of grumbling in the community that we’re overstepping our bounds if we do something like that, and I agree,” Fuller said after being asked by Vice Mayor Wayne Bacon how the item ended up on the agenda.
Ward Four councilman Ron Gott voiced his opposition to the proposed ordinance, saying he believed a mask mandate is a violation of First Amendment rights.
“I’m personally against telling the citizens of our community and our business owners that they have to wear masks. I’ve done a lot of research on this. I’ve walked through town and gone into businesses and grocery stores, and it looked like they’re all doing a pretty good job in complying with what we’ve got to comply with,” Gott said.
“The citizens and business owners are not stupid…they know what they’ve got to do. The City of Guthrie tried this a couple of months ago, and within about a week, they rescinded that order because of all the pushback they got. Personally, I think it’s a violation of our First Amendment rights. I think we’re smart enough to not mandate our folks in this community to go under some sort of martial law,” Gott added.
Councilor Kelly West, who represents Okemah’s Ward Three, echoed Gott’s sentiments. “I agree with that. I think with only 17 active cases in the county, everyone is doing a good job of using common sense and using a mask,” West said.
Also citing the relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases in Okfuskee County, Bacon said he doesn’t believe a mask mandate is in order at this time. “I don’t think we’re at a point to where we have to force folks to wear a mask. If we get to a point to where we have a whole bunch of cases, then maybe we do, but we don’t right now,” he said.
Ward One councilor Ronnie Lucas said wearing a mask was a “personal choice” and people should exercise “common sense” in deciding whether to wear one or not.
Fuller concluded the brief discussion about the mandate by saying he was against it. “I have said and continue to say that the people of this community and this county are very intelligent when it comes to self responsibility,” he said.
“They know the dangers and they’re willing to assume the risk of those dangers and do a good job of not living in fear. They continue to go about their daily business which is highly encouraged and don’t let their fear control their lives. So do what you’ve got to do to keep yourself safe…wear a mask when you need to and wash your hands. It’s pretty simple. Our own people are taking care of themselves,” Fuller added.
After the discussion, Fuller said he wished to make a motion to not adopt the ordinance, but was informed by city attorney Jack Cadenhead that a motion was not required, and the council could simply proceed to the next agenda item. The proposal effectively died due to lack of motion and subsequent action.
Cities in Oklahoma that currently have mask mandates in place include Ada, Altus, Anadarko, Choctaw, Edmond, Fort Sill (military base), Lawton, Midwest City, Norman, Oklahoma City, Shawnee, Spencer, Stillwater, The Village, Tulsa and Warr Acres. The City of Seminole was scheduled to take up the issue in a city council meeting slated for Tuesday evening.