A majority of Athens City Council members have voted to encourage the people they represent to wear masks and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Council Member Dick Pelley made a motion to encourage all Athens residents to wear protective masks or face coverings via the federal CDC guidelines at Tuesday’s meeting. The motion was seconded by newly-sworn-in Council Member Frances Witt-McMahan.
In making the motion, Pelley asked his fellow Council members to “take a stand on wearing masks in the city and put out the word to all citizens encouraging all citizens to wear a mask in and around the city. I think that COVID is growing. … We can’t mandate it, which I would love to do. … We don’t do that in Athens. We don’t need to do that in Athens, but we do need to encourage.”
After some discussion, Pelley’s motion passed, 4-1, with only Vice Mayor Mark Lockmiller casting a dissenting vote.
Following the initial motion, Mayor Bo Perkinson noted that Pelley’s request was not on the meeting agenda and had not been previously discussed. City Manager C. Seth Sumner said the action being requested by Pelley did not require a formal vote.
“That’s something this Council can do without any action taken on it,” said Sumner.
“But a motion gives it that much more authority and it’s appropriate to do,” replied Pelley.
As an alternative, Sumner suggested he could draft a formal document, likely in the form of a proclamation, for Council consideration at its December meeting and discussion at its December study session.
Council Member Jordan Curtis — also sworn in on Tuesday — pointed out that all five Council members were wearing masks during the meeting.
“I think we are actively communicating (the wearing of masks) by our leadership,” said Curtis.
However, Curtis initially said he was uncomfortable with the motion.
“I’m not opposed to mask wearing,” said Curtis. “I’m opposed to the citizens of Athens not knowing that we were going to be taking action on something that wasn’t properly on our agenda for tonight.”
Pelley replied that a proclamation would be “making a mountain out of a mole hill” and noted that no taxpayer dollars would be needed to take the action he was requesting. He did not oppose a supplemental proclamation being voted upon next month, but asked that the Council move forward with consideration of his initial motion during Tuesday’s meeting.
Lockmiller explained why he planned to vote against the measure.
“The citizens of Athens are smart enough to wear a mask or not wear a mask on their own,” he said. “I can’t go with a suggestion we have across-the-board face mask coverings.”
“What I’m hearing (Pelley) say is not that we can force the masks, but that we would encourage it,” replied Witt-McMahan. “And I would like more encouragement of mask wearing, as well.”
Prior to the vote, Pelley again emphasized that he was only suggesting a strong encouragement of mask wearing, not that it be required. He formalized his motion by stating that, if approved, the Council wished to “encourage the citizens of Athens to wear their masks when they are out in public.”
Also on Tuesday night, the Council held its post-election reorganization, including the swearing in of new members and the appointment of a mayor and vice mayor. Full coverage of the Council reorganization will be included next week in The Daily Post-Athenian.