City commissioners extended Enid’s mask mandate through April after what one commissioner-elect called “round four of the Enid mask debacle” Thursday night.
With Ward 5 Commissioner Rob Stallings the sole no vote, the commission and Mayor George Pankonin voted 6-1 in favor of continuing the current mandate until midnight April 30 to try to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic in Enid.
Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell also asked city management to clarify the order would expire at the end of the day on April 30, which indeed was the case.
Under the extended mandate, which commissioners first passed Dec. 1, all ordinance provisions, exemptions and enforcement policies will remain the same.
People in Enid currently must wear a face covering consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in any public, indoor location (presumably meaning when social distancing is not possible).
Several exemptions are listed online, including children under 5, people eating or drinking, people in their own homes or those of companions or family members, a person in an office with the door shut and public safety personnel.
This requirement does not apply to Vance Air Force Base, Garfield County Court House, school buildings, religious institutions, hospitals and other medical residential facilities. Vance and Enid Public Schools currently have their own mandates in place, as do Enid’s major medical facilities.
There is no penalty for specifically violating the ordinance — if reported to Enid police, violators instead would continue to be subject to trespassing, disturbing the peace or other similar offenses.
Ward 6 Commissioner-elect Scott Orr, who spoke at Thursday’s meeting, called Enid’s current mandate as “worthless as a penny in my pocket” because it was unenforceable and no one was even enforcing it.
Orr said he thought the extension would not change anything with the current pandemic situation in Enid and Garfield County, where average new case numbers have fluctuated since December but appear to have peaked in the last several months.
“So why are we here wasting our time and effort on something that’s worthless?” he asked.
All who spoke during public comment Thursday night — including two of Enid’s three commissioners-elect — blamed the commission for further dividing the community.
Nearly all who spoke Thursday wore red shirts as members of Enid Freedom Fighters, the citizens’ group that organized in the aftermath of the first mask mandate vote in July and has continually opposed any further attempts.
Commissioners twice voted against a mandate — and another failed to come to a vote — before passing December’s proposal.
Freedom Fighters member Emily Hladik called attention to an unofficial petition of 1,300 signatures opposed to the mandate that the group submitted to the city ahead of December’s vote.
“What’s on display for us tonight is your disrespect for the voters of Enid,” Hladik told Pankonin. “You and those commissioners who vote to extend this mandate over the will of the people are solely responsible for continuing divisiveness in our beloved town.”
Like Orr, Ward 4 Commissioner-elect Whitney Roberts said the commission has stopped further conversations and ignored the “mass majority” of the electorate.
“Your intentions may be good, but you have had an adverse effect on our community,” Roberts said to the commission. “Us red shirts have been labeled as selfish, but in fact we are quite the opposite.”
As a member of the Freedom Fighters — who she said aren’t anti-mask, but “anti-mandate” — Roberts called for a “meeting in the middle” by allowing individuals to decide what is best for them, such as wearing masks or being vaccinated during the current public health crisis.
Orr said he too believed a “majority of people,” in all of Enid, do not want a mask mandate after having campaigned and knocking on doors throughout January in his ward.
He also implored current Ward 6 Commissioner Jeff Funk, who was not on the commission when the board approved the initial declaration, to vote against Thursday’s extension.
Funk, however, did not, calling attention to the city ordinance’s similarity to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s mask mandate in and outside of state property and to ones currently in place in schools, Vance and hospitals.
Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell spoke directly to the new commissioners after Ward 1 Commissioner Jerry Allen called for a vote.
“To the newly elected members of the city council, you all are gonna have to make tough decisions. I implore you to be guided by expertise, not extremists,” Ezzell said, appearing to refer to the Freedom Fighters members in attendance Thursday. “If you chase your tail by trying to do what’s most popular, you’re never going to be able to show real leadership to the community, and we need that.”
Ezzell said, speaking from statistics alone, a statewide mandate would’ve been better than “punting” them to cities.
Cities, counties and states that implemented mandates, earlier than Enid’s, have had lower death rates — the state of Maine has had a rate of 49 deaths per 100,000 population, while the state of Kansas has had a rate of 155 per 100,000.
With 69 deaths so far, Garfield County’s current death rate is 113 per 100,000 population, Ezzell said — Oklahoma County’s is 85/100,000, Oklahoma City’s city council having voted for a mandate in July 2020.
The city of Stillwater, which passed a mandate in July, is at 56 deaths per 100,000, Ezzell said.
“My point is this — public health expertise matters, and moreover, leadership matters, even at our level. Gov. Stitt failed us by abrogating his responsibility to act in the best interest of all of Oklahomans, and we failed Enid,” he said. “If we had acted early, our rate could be lower.”
Freedom Fighters leader and administrator Melissa Crabtree said she would’ve wanted commissioners to amend extending the expiration date until after Roberts, Orr and Ward 3’s Keith Siragusa are sworn into office in the beginning of May.
Both Funk and Ward 4 Commissioner Jonathan Waddell have said they would resign ahead of May’s swearing-in date, once their successors decide they are ready to take office. Ezzell said he would not.
Crabtree said ward residents last week largely voted for a group of candidates who would not want to vote for a mask mandate.
Listening and voting
NeAnne Clinton, who managed Orr’s campaign, suggested through several questions that commissioners themselves did not follow the ordinance.
“Have you followed the mandate, to the letter? Have you been an example to the community you were voted on to serve? Have you worn your mask to places of worship — where they are not required — because you believe in the almighty mask?” Clinton asked. “Are you doing the right thing even when nobody is looking?”
Freedom Fighter member Brian Henry also suggested a majority of the commissioners were “hipokrites” — the Greek word for “actor” or “interpreter from underneath” that originated the word “hypocrite” — by not voting the same for all three times a mandate was proposed.
He then applauded Waddell and Ezzell, as well as former commissioner David Mason, who all voted consistently on the proposals.
In response to Henry’s comments, Norwood said while he voted against the mandate the first time, he voted for it the second time, doing so both times based on the currently available data.
“I don’t like the way (a mask) feels, but I use it. Because I’m a representative of this council and I voted for it,” he said. “Because I didn’t want to feel like a hypocrite.”
Norwood also said a large group of people with a different opinion from the anti-mandate speakers were again underrepresented at Thursday’s meeting because they felt unsafe to be at the meetings.
Following the vote, having signed up twice for public comment, Henry then spoke again, calling for the commission to listen to his group’s message.
“It feels like we’re adversaries; it feels like we’ve gotta show up here and fight for our rights. That’s what we come here with. That’s why we’re frustrated, that’s why we voice things to you, and you guys don’t understand it. You act like we’re irrational,” he said before interrupting himself to address Ezzell directly. “Yeah, Ben, you’re shaking your head right now — we’re not trying to be irrational.
“… How does that feel? And then people essentially put their fingers in their ears and stop listening,” Henry said.
Pankonin had the last word of the night in response to Henry’s comments.
“Just because we don’t rule in the way we didn’t want you to doesn’t mean we didn’t hear the message,” he said, “it means we disagree with the message, which is totally different.”