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Florence council backs off mask proclamation
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FLORENCE — The Town Council opted against a more formal commitment to face coverings in Florence at Monday’s meeting.

An emergency proclamation requiring masks to be worn in specific locations in Florence failed to pass. Councilman John Anderson, who said he’s in a high-risk group, asked for the proclamation with the support of Councilwoman Judy Hughes.

The five-page proclamation was taken nearly word-for-word from a recent presidential executive order and adapted for Florence, Ben Bitter, Florence intergovernmental and communications manager, told the council.

Amid an increase in COVID-19 cases as well as fatalities locally, “we felt it was time to present this proclamation to the council,” he said. The proclamation stated, “Put simply, masks and other public health measures reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when communities make widespread use of such measures, and thus save lives. ...

“The public is only required to wear masks on sidewalks, the streets and thoroughfares within the town of Florence when they are outside of their licensed motor vehicles. This mask requirement does not apply to public parking lots as long as social distancing guidelines are followed,” the proclamation stated.

Councilwoman Kristen Larsen objected to requiring masks on public streets where people can maintain social distancing. She further questioned how it would be enforced.

Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes said she’s not going to tell an adult what to do. She said since the pandemic began she had worn a mask everywhere and she still caught COVID-19. She said people shouldn’t be required to wear masks outside.

“If we are within our own group of people and I’m not walking up to somebody I haven’t been around, a stranger or whatever … I should not have to wear a mask, just to be outside on the sidewalk. ...We are not in a position to police each other. It’s not fair to put that type of burden on our citizens,” Cordes said.

Hughes also supported deleting the requirement for masks outside. “Up here in Anthem, it would be just a nightmare. … It would be a mess up here.” But she continued she would like the town to have more “teeth” to require contractors to be safer around town employees.

Anderson said he was more concerned about the sidewalks downtown, where it’s harder for people to maintain a 6-foot distance. He asked Mayor Tara Walter why she was so opposed to the proclamation.

“We’ve already had this in place since the beginning,” Walter replied.

“The town manager has put out memos, we have signs in place,” plus communication from the town website, Facebook, through the newspaper and the governor, she said.

“I genuinely don’t see any difference in how it’s been handled for the last 10 months vs. what is going into writing, other than a few additional things such as trying to bring in open spaces, sidewalks, which personally I feel is infringing on other people’s rights,” Walter said.

“I feel like it’s our job in government to give accurate and correct information as well as guidelines for people to make educated decisions that impact their daily life.”

Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Roger Biede said small surveys in other towns have indicated that mask ordinances result in increased sales for businesses in those towns.

Anderson offered to amend the proclamation based on the evening’s discussion and made a motion to approve it, but his motion died for lack of a second. Anderson thanked everyone but noted he was never allowed to make a presentation on the proclamation.

“You made the presentation tonight, not me,” Anderson told Walter.

Cathy Adam of Florence thanked the council for its discussion.

“We’re a year into this. It’s not getting better. It’s getting far worse. And it’s touching all of us far closer to home than it has before. It looks like it can get worse before we can get enough vaccinations into all of our arms,” Adam said.

“What can we do? What can you do with the bully pulpit?” Adam asked the council. She said she doesn’t want to see the police take their eyes off crime to enforce masks on the street. “But … I’m very worried for everybody in our community and I hate just sitting by and not doing anything.”