Independence rejects mask mandate

By Mike Genet

The Independence City Council did not back to the mayor’s proposed mask mandate Monday, as some council members cited the need to maintain personal choice. 

The 4-2 vote came after numerous speakers addressed a packed council chambers at City Hall. Council Member Dan Hobart backed Mayor Eileen Weir on the resolution for a 30-day mask mandate for indoor public spaces and outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people. Council Members Brice Stewart, John Perkins, Mike Huff and Mike Steinmeyer voted no. Council Member Karen DeLuccie was unable to attend due to being hospitalized out of town, though in a message to The Examiner she said her vote would have been no. 

Weir does not need the council’s approval to issue a public health order for a mask mandate, but by state law the council would have to vote to extend it past 30 days and could even revoke it before then. The mayor said last week she didn’t want to issue a mandate that could simply be overturned and potentially cause confusion. 

Stewart and Huff both said they believe COVID-19 is real and dangerous, and as such have been vaccinated. But masks should still be a choice and not a government mandate. 

“I will not be taking anybody’s choices or rights away,” Stewart said. 

“I believe this is too much overreach for municipal government,” Huff said. “I wish all people would get a vaccine, but it is a personal choice.” 

Steinmeyer said it should be a recommendation rather than a mandate. 

Besides infringing on personal liberties, and openly doubting if masks had any effect on stemming COVID-19 transmission, some speakers said a mask mandate would put undue burdens on businesses. 

“You make them the sheriff; you make them the bad people,” Kristi Nichols said about businesses enforcing a mandate. 

“We have given up more and more freedoms in the name of safety,” Matthew Brown said. The pandemic “is being unnecessarily and greatly exaggerated to make us fear it.” 

“Let citizens and businesses choose based on their own beliefs,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe vaccines have been proven enough. 

Cathryn Sperry, a special needs teacher, said masks can affect language and communication skills with children because they can’t see lips. 

“Where do we draw the line?” she said. “Let us be free to choose.” 

Ben McClain said he doesn’t want to see governance simply by experts, saying that while their insight is important, “We have to balance their concerns against the people and their rights.” 

Marcie Gragg, a former council member who joined virtually and urged a vote for the mask mandate, said government exists in part to ensure the health and welfare of the community and noted the precautions she has taken because of her immune-deficient son, who spent many days in his youth in the hospital to “deal with infections you and I would consider normal.” 

“There are many, many Joshuas in our community,” she said, adding that if not a mask mandate, “How are you going to protect our health?” 

Laura Dominik said there are many instances in which municipal employees make decisions for the betterment of one’s health or the public’s health, and they don’t require a council vote. If the council didn’t follow the recommendation of both the CDC and Public Health Advisory Board, she said, “then you’re voting based on politics.” 

Sharon Royer said citizens are suffering senselessly, with no herd immunity, and based on valid information to which the council has access, a mask mandate makes sense. 

“We want you to make the right decision, not the easy decision,” Royer said.