Gilbert Town Council passes 30-day face coverings order

Gilbert Water Tower
The town of Gilbert will require people to wear a mask in town facilities and in public when social distancing is not possible. (Courtesy town of Gilbert)

The town of Gilbert will require people to wear a mask in town facilities and in public when social distancing is not possible. (Courtesy town of Gilbert)

The Gilbert Town Council passed a 30-day requirement to wear face coverings in certain situations beginning 5 p.m. June 19 to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The order will require the use of face coverings in town buildings and facilities as well as in indoors and outdoors where social distancing is not possible.

The order passed on a 5-2 vote only after modifications to address concerns about enforcement and the order having no end as well as infringement upon personal liberties.

The changes, as asked for by Mayor Jenn Daniels, were enough to secure the votes of Vice Mayor Scott Anderson and Council Members Scott September and Bill Spence, all of whom expressed concerns about the original proposed order.

Council Member Yung Koprowski supported the order as a simple way to improve public health, expressing concern about her own vulnerable parents and grandparents in town.

Council Member Aimee Yentes said she appreciated the changes as improvements but voted against the order, saying it was difficult but with much unknown she preferred to err on the side of freedom.

Council Member Jared Taylor also dissented, saying government's proper role here would be to educate and partner with schools, churches and businesses to protect individual rights.

An emotional Daniels, who said what is happening in the community and what to do about it has weighed heavily upon her, proposed the changes to address her concerns about personal liberties but cited the data showing the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

Daniels also strongly condemned shaming people who make different choices on masks.

“Those who are not wearing masks are being shamed for not wearing masks,” she said. “And those who are wearing masks are being told that they've made a political statement. We do not know people's individual circumstances. We are not here to judge one another. We are here to make an individual decision, and I want to make sure that's really clear.”

The 30-day sunset, at which time the order could be renewed, would give council a chance to look at the data again before schools start to return to session, Daniels said. The town could modify or rescind the order before then.

Daniels and council struck a provision to require masks when entering and while inside of a place of business or mode of transportation open to the public. She also expanded an exception to the order for children under 2 years of age to make it for those under 6 years of age and then stressed parents are the ones best able to make decisions for children.

The initial proposed order stressed an education-first model before enforcement, but council members were still concerned about the possibility of heavy-handed enforcement. A provision that would make violation of the order a Class I misdemeanor, punishable up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine, was stricken from the final order.

However, on a question from Council Member Bill Spence, Town Attorney Christopher Payne used an example in which if a restaurant were having problems with a patron who was not respecting requests to wear a mask or socially distance, an owner or manager could call for police assistance. The patron could face trespassing charges, for instance, under those circumstances.

The final order includes six exceptions:

  • those who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or behavioral condition;

  • children under 6 years of age;

  • restaurant patrons while they are dining;

  • when complying with directions of law enforcement officers;

  • in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering, including when obtaining or rendering goods or services, such as the receipt of dental services or while swimming; and

  • anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Local businesses that are open to the public are being asked to post signage that customers are required to wear face coverings by order of Gilbert Town Council. The town is making sign options downloadable through the town website.

Gov. Doug Ducey made an executive order June 17 allowing municipalities to make decisions on mask orders and enforcing those orders.

Since that time, Daniels received more than 900 emails expressing opinions, about two-thirds in favor of such orders, an aide said. Council comment cards for the meeting ran slightly opposed to the orders, while seven members of the public spoke, four in favor of an order and three opposed.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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