Gov. Hutchinson opposes Fayetteville mask ordinance, says cities should follow state health rules

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 8,833 views 

One day after the Fayetteville City Council unanimously passed a face mask ordinance as a measure to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed concern about the initiative.

On Tuesday, Fayetteville City Council members unanimously passed a law that will require everyone to wear face masks inside public places in the city. It went into effect immediately.

Speaking Wednesday (June 17) in Little Rock at his daily COVID-19 press briefing, the governor said considering the explosive rise in COVID-19 cases in Northwest Arkansas, he is not surprised about the push to require the wearing of masks. The state does not, however, need 50 different municipal ordinances going in 50 different directions.

“I understand where their heart is,” the governor said of Mayor Lioneld Jordan and the Fayetteville City Council. “I would prefer that cities not take that step, simply because we want to make sure that we educate people, they exercise self-discipline, that they take their own responsibility and through that education and example of leaders follow the right healthcare protocols. That’s the preference. That’s the direction we’ve gone as a state, and I would discourage other cities from stepping out there.”

Gov. Hutchinson said there is a conflict between the Fayetteville ordinance and the state health emergency order he issued in March. When pressed about a specific conflict, he provided no detail other than to say the state health orders include “very strong guidelines” with indoor and outdoor venues that require “or strongly suggested” the wearing of masks, social distancing and other health safety rules.

The governor said state leaders should avoid “a punitive form” of encouraging Arkansans to follow public health guidelines. He also said he has no plans to quash the Fayetteville ordinance, but if it becomes more of a problem around the state, “we’ll re-examine that.”

It is unclear what enforcement measures Fayetteville officials plan to use to enforce the new ordinance, particularly at big-box stores like Walmart that see hundreds if not thousands of customers per day.

“The ordinance was passed by City Council last night, and I am working with city staff to determine the logistics of the ordinance,” Jordan said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics on Wednesday. “This includes how enforcement will be managed. Just like any other city ordinance, I expect each business to follow the rules — no matter how big or small that business is.”

Meanwhile, officials in nearby Springdale say face coverings are encouraged but referred to municipal ordinances mandating their use as illegal and unenforceable.

In a statement distributed Wednesday, Springdale Chamber of Commerce CEO Perry Webb encouragd the use of face coverings for employees and customers. It is printed below in its entirety:

The health and safety of our members and their employees during this COVID-19 pandemic is of the utmost importance to the Chamber. Because of that, we are strongly encouraging all our members to require the use of a face covering by their employees and customers and to observe six-foot distancing whenever possible.

The Chamber believes a municipal ordinance requiring masks, as other cities have enacted, is illegal and unenforceable. We have discouraged the city of Springdale from taking this course of action.

However, we DO support our members requiring face coverings for employees and customers at their business as a common-sense measure to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

As an example, the Chamber is now requiring anyone entering our building to wear a mask to protect the health of our employees. Except when alone in their offices, our staff will follow suit when in common areas and when meeting with visitors. 

We are convinced this is a simple way to show concern for others in our community and one based in proven science. To accommodate our visitors, we are providing complimentary masks and a hand sanitizing station at our building entrance. We encourage our members to follow our lead.

We believe businesses requiring face coverings is a reasonable action that is legal, enforceable and creates a protective environment for employees and customers alike.

We also encourage you to continue to implement these recommended steps:

  •      Follow CDC and OSHA disinfecting guidelines
  •      Maintain a six foot distance between you and others
  •      Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds multiple times each day
  •      Use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not possible
  •      Post COVID-19 signage at entrances

The Chamber is convinced these steps, recommended by the top health experts in our state and nation, can help slow and ultimately reduce the number of COVID-19 positive cases in our city and region. Let’s keep Springdale safe!

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said he also encourages citizens to follow guidelines, but there are no plans to pass a city ordinance requiring the wearing of masks.

“As mayor, I have no plans to bring forward such an ordinance, nor do I believe such an ordinance would have [city] council support,” Sprouse said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “I believe that an ordinance making private businesses require masks is not within our authority, as was stated by the Fayetteville City Attorney prior to the approval of the ordinance by the Fayetteville City Council.

“While I agree with the spirit of the ordinance, I don’t believe it is wise to pass an ordinance that is not legal, or enforceable. It is well within the authority of any private business to require customers to wear masks, and I would encourage and support such action. But at the end of the day, adherence to CDC guidelines ultimately comes down to education and personal responsibility, regardless of what ordinance might or might not be in place.”

Before the Fayetteville City Council voted Tuesday night, Mayor Jordan wrote a letter to business owners in the city, asking them to be diligent in their precautions to help contain the spread of the virus. Specifically, he urged business owners to posts signs at their entrances requiring masks or face coverings to be worn by anyone who enters. He also instructed businesses to “please refuse service” to customers who do not wear masks or face coverings.

“If your business is required by the Arkansas Department of Health directive to enforce masks for employees and customers — please be diligent about enforcing this directive,” the mayor’s letter said. “I know that loss of business and reduced ability to operate has created a great financial burden for you. I am also aware that potentially turning away customers who refuse to wear masks may increase that burden. But I call upon you to send a strong message that each of us must do our part to reduce this threat to our community.”

You can read the mayor’s letter at this link.

In Rogers, city officials there are not considering any face mask laws, but are no less concerned about controlling the spread of the virus. Rogers Mayor Greg Hines announced Wednesday the rollout of a new program called #KeepRogersSafe. It’s an opt-in initiative for businesses and doesn’t carry any penalties— the mayor stressed the program is not a law enforcement-related initiative — but does provide cooperating businesses an opportunity to sign a pledge to follow public health guidelines. Those pledges are available to the public, so consumers know who is committed to following recommended health guidelines.

During a news conference announcing the program, Hines also pushed back on the idea of government overreach.

“It’s a new initiative, it’s a test, and I think it’s an appropriate way for the government to respond when we don’t have the authority to mandate that businesses do certain things,” Hines said. “We hope the business community recognizes that consumers are looking for a place to shop safely.”

Editor’s note: Talk Business & Politics executive editor Michael Tilley contributed to this story.