Editor’s note: Story updated to add a response from Director André Good and to remove a response from Director George Catsavis.
At least four of Fort Smith’s seven City Directors would support a city ordinance requiring face mask use in public places. The possibility of a Fort Smith ordinance emerged Friday (July 3) when Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order allowing cities to do so.
The “model ordinance” requiring mask use was drafted in coordination with the Arkansas Municipal League (AML), and “requires the usage of facial coverings as recommended by the Department of Health.” (Link here for a PDF of the Executive Order.)
“Let me emphasize that this is a local option. No one is mandated to do it. It is an option for cities to give them more flexibility if they have a community in which they might have a surge in cases,” Gov. Hutchinson said Friday in announcing the ordinance.
The ordinance depends primarily on local law enforcement to help enforce the wearing of face masks. Following are details on enforcement according to the governor’s order.
• Local law enforcement and other city officials to enforce the use of face coverings upon the business’ premises in accordance with public health guidelines.
• Local law enforcement and other city officials to act in a support capacity, through enforcement, to educate and encourage members of the public who decline to wear a face covering about the efficacy of wearing such coverings.
• Local law enforcement and other city officials to assist in enforcement through education of individuals who decline to comply with the face covering requirement of any local business that the individual must abide by the local business’ mandate or leave the premises.
The ordinance has no provision for penalties.
Talk Business & Politics sent a question about the ordinance to the mayor and all seven board members. Fort Smith Mayor George McGill, who does not have a board vote, supports a face mask ordinance.
“Wearing a mask in public places is one thing we should all be willing to do to protect our River Valley family from the unnecessary spread of COVID-19,” McGill said in his response.
Director Robyn Dawson supports the idea of an ordinance because “we do not have COVID-19 under control.”
“I’m for the ordinance to help protect the people who are working in the public and for those who are supporting the businesses that are open. Even though an ordinance would be enacted, there are no penalties such as fines if you don’t comply. However, it would allow businesses the authority to not serve those who do not wish to comply. It is up to all of us to do our part to keep our community safe,” Dawson noted.
Director André Good also believes masks should be worn in public.
“I am in favor of the requirement to wear mask in public places. I wear a mask every time I go to the store, I sanitize my hands before and after as well as practice social distancing,”
Directors Keith Lau and Lavon Morton also supported the ordinance.
“I am in favor of masks and the model ordinance. It is critically important that we do all we can to keep people safe and try to return some level of normalcy to our schools, including UAFS (University of Arkansas at Fort Smith), and our businesses. Our area has done well so far in keeping case numbers low. We can’t let all of the effort that has been made since March be wasted. We should act to protect our citizens and businesses and institutions,” Morton said.
Director Neal Martin initially told Talk Business & Politics the ordinance is not a good idea for the city, saying the “ordinance is too ambiguous” and “doesn’t really change anything.” However, he later said he is withholding judgment until receiving input from the law firm of Daily & Woods, which serves as the city’s attorney.
Director Kevin Settle did not respond.