After Monday night’s Conway City Council meeting, it is unlikely that anyone in a public place within the city limits of Conway will be allowed to go mask-free, according to several Conway City Council members who say they have reconsidered their initial votes requiring masks in essential businesses only.
Councilman William Goldfinch said after the vote he had time to think, take it all in and grow on the subject. He calls that responsible government as opposed to just taking a kneejerk action.
Council’s initial vote required masks in essential businesses only, in other words places where people must go, like grocery stores, pharmacies and more. Council followed that vote by passing a second ordinance encouraging citizens and visitors to wear masks any time they’re in public or inside a nonessential business like a restaurant or movie theatre.
The council members who voted against the mandatory wearing of masks included Shane Hubbard, Goldfinch, Justin Jordan and Alex Hyman, who all worried that some people would think a mandatory ordinance infringed on their freedom to make their own decisions.
Goldfinch said it was an old friend, who spoke back to him some words he had spoken to him in the past, that changed his thinking.
“He said, ‘William, you said that people should have the right to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of other people,’ and when he threw that back in my face, it clicked,” the councilman said.
Goldfinch now says he realizes that it does affect other people’s rights because it can cause them to contract the virus.
“I hate that it got to this point, but that’s sort of where I am,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to see the economy suffer another shutdown.
He also thinks it will be easier for nonessential businesses to get compliance from customers if they can tell them it’s the law and not just a good idea.
He and Councilman Justin Jordan, who also voted against the mandatory regulation, both say they want their children to be able to go back to school.
Goldfinch said his 6-year-old is likely not going back to school on schedule because the number of COVID cases isn’t low enough.
“So, it is infringing on my little boy’s chance to get an education,” he said.
Jordan said now, and at the time of the past vote, that he has nothing against masks and, working in the medical field, he wears one all the time.
“I don’t know exactly how the ordinance will be written. I guess the biggest thing for me right now is masks are extremely important and we’ve got to do something to curve what’s going on in our community,” he said, adding that if that means making wearing masks mandatory he’s ready to take that step.
He says he’s seen COVID patients and, “It’s not a pretty sight.”
He wants to keep his children and family safe.
“We’re facing things we’ve never faced before and hopefully we never face again…We’re in this for the long haul,” he said.
He wants to encourage folks to help and says, “Let’s kick this thing out, and let’s see if we can get it under control.”
He called the coronavirus “a nasty, nasty virus” saying, “Whatever we have to do, we need to do…I’ll support whatever we need to do to get this thing under control.”
Hubbard is still undecided about how he’ll vote Monday night.
“I really haven’t decided, and here’s my whole issue. I’m not anti-mask. I just don’t like passing legislation we can’t enforce,” he said.
Hubbard said if the mask ordinance passes, each Conway policeman will have 277 buildings to respond to.
On the other hand, he’d like to help businesses by giving them the opportunity to tell their customers, “…this is the law.”
“We don’t have the resources to enforce it and that’s just a fact, so that’s where my dilemma stands right now,” he said.
Goldfinch and Jordan weren’t sure today (Monday) exactly how the ordinance they will consider now will be written, saying it’s possible council will go back to the original one suggested by city staff.
The original ordinance makes it a civil infraction if people don’t wear facial coverings or masks when they enter commercial establishments inside the city. It exempts religious establishments, but it recommends masks during religious activities.
The rejected ordinance also required business owners and employees in restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores, pharmacies and more to wear masks when they are having face-to-face interaction with the public.
Exemptions were offered to people who are unable to wear masks due to underlying health conditions, or if they can’t remove them without assistance.
The ordinance exempted people in personal vehicles, those alone in enclosed spaces or participating in outdoor physical activities, provided they are at least six feet from other people at all times.
Also exempted were people who are alone or with other household members; when they are drinking, eating or smoking; when wearing a mask causes or aggravates a health condition; and when wearing a mask prevents receiving personal services. Council exempted children under 8-years-old.
Voting in favor of the ordinance were Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy, Larry White and Jean Timbes.
Councilwoman Jean Timbes rated COVID-19 as possibly the greatest challenge that council members have faced in their lifetimes.
She said the virus is out of control and without action she predicted that it will continue to surge, and she warned the councilmen that they held people’s lives in their hands.
The group agreed that police will have to use good judgment in dealing with people who aren’t following the requirements, stressing that getting people to wear their masks is the more important than ticketing them.
Efforts to contact Councilman Alex Hyman were unsuccessful.