Emotions run high as city council fails to pass mask ordinance

Updated: Jun. 17, 2020 at 9:31 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - After much debate between members of the Montgomery City Council Tuesday night, a vote for a mandatory mask wearing ordinance failed to pass.

The proposal, sponsored by Councilman Cornelius “CC” Calhoun, would have made it mandatory to wear a mask in a public location with groups of 25 or more people. The vote ended in a tie, 4 to 4.

Three of the speakers in attendance during Tuesday’s meeting in city hall were Montgomery-area doctors and medical personnel. All felt that the mask ordinance would have been a big step in the right direction.

“Two months ago, our units were almost empty, without patients, and now the units are full,” said Dr. William Saliski with Montgomery Pulmonary Consultants. “If this continues the way it’s going, we will be overrun.”

As of June 14, Montgomery County is number one in the state for total number of COVID-19 cases, surpassing counties like Mobile and Jefferson that have more than double the population.

Saliski went on to say that half of their patients are on ventilators and between 85 and 90 percent of those are African American.

“If you have the virus and you are wearing this mask, you are not giving it to other people if you are wearing it in public,” Saliski said.

The mask ordinance was backed by Mayor Steven Reed, who thanked Calhoun for the proposal. Reed had proposed a mask ordinance two weeks ago but withdrew the plan when he found no support from the council.

“This community cannot sustain where we are, much less where we are headed,” said Reed. “Even if you are looking at this from a financial perspective, it is in our best interest that we are not viewed upon as a hot spot. As many of you know we count on tourism as a big driver during these months, well I can tell you nobody is coming here as long as we are hot spot.”

Councilman Glen Pruitt was against the ordinance. He said that the city is already not enforcing the curfew, therefore they would not be able to enforce the masks.

“I’m not going to pass a piece of legislation that says, ‘hey we passed the mask ordinance, but we aren’t going to enforce it.' We are not going to put everybody in jail that’s not wearing it,” Pruitt said.

Councilwoman Audrey Graham responded to Pruitt saying, “this is talking about 25 people or more, we aren’t just talking about just people outside and police pass by and if you don’t have a mask on you’re given a ticket. That is not what we are talking about. We’re talking about large gatherings and businesses just wanting to be safe.”

Councilman Brantley Lyons was also against the ordinance saying that it was a breach of government control.

“If an illness or pandemic comes through, we do not throw our constitutional rights out the window,” Lyons said. “I think to make somebody do something, or require someone to wear something, is overreach and for that I cannot support it and I won’t support it.”

Members of the audience also had an opportunity to voice their opinions about the ordinance.

One member, William Boyd, pointing out that close to 90 percent of the people dying are from the black community. He said he has lost six family members to COVID-19.

“The question on the table is do black lives matter,” said Boyd.

Ultimately, councilman Clay McInnis voted with council members Cornelius Calhoun, Oronde Mitchell and Audrey Graham in favor of the ordinance. Brantley Lyons, Charles Jinright, Richard Bollinger and Glen Pruitt voted against it. Councilman Tracy Larkin was absent.

After the vote against the mandatory mask wearing ordinance, the council voted 7-0 to adopt an unenforceable resolution asking people to wear masks. Lyons abstained.

WSFA asked Councilman Calhoun and Mayor Reed about the future for the mask ordinance, they both said they are looking at other options.

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