Editor’s note: After this story was posted, a majority of Fort Smith Board of Directors asked for the ordinance to be removed from the agenda of the upcoming meeting. Therefore, there will be no vote on a city mask ordinance.
Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said he will recommend to the board of directors that an ordinance to mandate the use of face masks in public spaces stay on the agenda for the Tuesday (June 21) meeting even though Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statewide mandate that becomes effective July 20.
Director Lavon Morton asked that an ordinance regarding the use of face coverings in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic be placed on Tuesday’s agenda. Other members of the board were contacted about the request, and Directors Keith Lau, Andre Good, George Catsavis, Robyn Dawson and Kevin Settle agreed with the request. Director Neal Martin rejected the request.
As written, the city’s ordinance would require the use of face coverings in all indoor environments where a person is exposed to non-household members and being able to distance at least six feet is not assured. The proposed ordinance notes that at distances further than six feet, masks are not required. It also states that the requirements do not apply to children under the age of three and that all people involved in school activities should follow the policies of the school or the school district.
The proposed ordinance states that if a person refuses to wear a mask within six-feet of a non-household member at a store or business, that store or business may call the police. Police will ask the person to comply with the ordinance. If they still refuse, the business may ask them to leave the premises. The proposed ordinance does offer exceptions for those with physical or mental health issues with a statement from their healthcare provider. The ordinance would expire Dec. 31 or at the end of the emergency declared by Hutchinson, whichever comes first.
Gov. Hutchinson on Thursday issued a statewide mandate requiring the use of face masks, citing the rising number of cases and input from health care workers, legislators and others who said the mandate is necessary to address the spread of COVID-19. According to information provided in the briefing, masks will be required in indoor and outdoor settings where exposed to non-household members and social distancing of six feet or more is not assured. There are a number of exemptions to the state mandate.
Geffken said he will recommend to the board that the proposed Fort Smith ordinance remain on the agenda in order to allow them to make a statement about the ordinance and facial coverings without having to wait until the comment time at the end of the meeting. Fort Smith directors responding to questions from Talk Business and Politics appeared to be mostly in favor of the ordinance.
“I support the amendment, which requires indoor masks based on ADH guidelines, follows Fort Smith School District guidelines for 18 and under when not in school, and has an end of 2020 sunset,” Morton said.
Settle said he believes the drafted ordinance is a good compromise and addresses many of the issues raised at a meeting on an early ordinance mandating face coverings July 11. Directors tabled a vote on an ordinance that would require the use of face masks when indoors at that meeting.
None of the directors responding to questions on the new proposed ordinance suggested any amendments.
“No amendments from me,” Lau said. I think as presented it is passable.”
Settle agreed, saying he believed having a safe city is important to board members and it is better to set rules rather “than have someone from outside tell us what to do.” Catsavis said the ordinance “looks like a workable ordinance from what I read. I believe it gives both sides of this argument what they want. I’m sure it will be discussed in detail at the meeting next Tuesday night.” Martin said he was still reviewing the ordinance. Neither Good nor Dawson responded to the query.