CARTHAGE, Mo. — After two meetings of discussion and several amendments to a proposed mask mandate stripping it of all consequences for violations, the Carthage City Council voted 6-4 to require masks to be worn in public, only to have the measure vetoed when Mayor Dan Rife announced he would not sign the ordinance.

According to Carthage City Attorney Nate Dally, the City Charter says the mayor can essentially veto a measure by not signing it and then filing the reasons for his objections with the city clerk.

Dally said the measure will come up for reconsideration at the next meeting, but the council would need seven votes to override Rife’s veto.

Council members James Harrison, Juan Topete, David Armstrong, Ceri Otero, Mike Daugherty and Seth Thompson voted for the measure. Raymond West, Alan Snow, Craig Diggs and Ed Barlow opposed it.

Topete said he was surprised by the final outcome.

“I don’t know if I go as far as to say disappointed, but maybe a little disappointed as to how everything transpired after that," Topete said. "It’s a tough decision for sure. I wouldn’t have expected the mayor to veto the council decision. I know I received a lot of support for the bill. I heard both sides. I heard people against and people for it. But I would say maybe for every two people against it there were seven or eight people for it, so there was a big difference.”

Shawn McGrew, a Carthage resident who spoke in favor of the mandate, said he was “disappointed that there was disregard for the well-being of others.”

“We have our local health systems who have reached out to council begging for their help,” McGrew said. “And the City Council refuses to support the community to look out for their well-being and support our health systems.”

 Rife said he was in favor of wearing masks and encourages everyone to do so, but he doesn’t feel it’s the city’s role to mandate mask-wearing.

He said a letter signed by him and the mayors of Webb City and Carl Junction and released last week asking that residents wear masks when out in public and in situations where social distancing was difficult was about as far as he was willing to go.

“I think it’s an overstep," he said. "I don’t think the city needs to be the ones who are mandating that masks be worn. We requested it. It’s up to the businesses to make their own rules for their own business and go from there. I don’t believe it’s the city’s place to be doing that.”

The vote took place at a special council meeting on Wednesday, called specifically to discuss a proposed mask mandate in the wake of the mandate adopted by Joplin last week. Comments on the mask ordinance were heard by Carthage council members at Wednesday’s special meeting and at Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Wednesday was the second time since the pandemic began that Rife has cast the deciding vote on a mask mandate in Carthage.

On June 30, the council deadlocked 5-5 on a mandate similar to the one considered on Wednesday, and Rife broke the tie, voting against the measure.

The mandate

The bill before Carthage City Council members on Wednesday would have required everyone over 6 years old to wear masks when in public spaces and when they couldn’t maintain social distancing.

It included exceptions for eating and drinking, for people with health problems that might make it hard to breathe through a mask and for people exercising.

The bill specifically prioritized enforcement by educating people found to be in violation of the mask mandate, and informing individuals and businesses of the mandate and the consequences before police hand out citations.

The council bill called for punishment, if violations persist, by fines of up to $500 for individuals and possible suspension or revocation of a certificate of occupancy or a business license for businesses in violation of the mask requirement.

However, during Wednesday’s meeting, council members offered a number of amendments that stripped out the sections laying out the consequences of violating the ordinance, leaving a mandate with limited ways to enforce it.

Council members also added an end date to the ordinance, calling for the mask mandate to expire Feb. 28, the same day for the Joplin mandate.

Council member Mike Daugherty objected to the changes to the enforcement of the mandate and made a motion to table the bill and adjourn the meeting after the amendments were passed.

“If we pass it with no punishment, then we’re wasting our time because we haven’t changed anything,” Daugherty said. “I’m just saying if there’s no punishment in the ordinance, then we haven’t done anything.”

The council approved the amendments, voted down Daugherty’s motion to adjourn and continued with amendments until the final vote.

Public comments

The council took public comments on the mask mandate on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The 12 speakers over those two meetings were split evenly, with six in favor and six opposed.

Mercy Carthage Hospital Administrator Scott Watson spoke to the council on Tuesday encouraging support for the mandate.

“Your hospital is full,” Watson said. “We worked all weekend with five COVID patients in the emergency department receiving the best care possible because we were full and there was nowhere to go. Since Labor Day, both hospitals in Springfield and both hospitals in Joplin, where we normally transfer, have been on forced open, which means that all four of them have told the state we can’t do any more, we can’t take any more, don’t bring people and ambulances to our ED.

“The data indicates to me today that in the next two weeks, particularly the second week in December, the number of beds that we’re going to have to find for COVID patients is going to increase in the range between 50 and 60 between Mercy Joplin, Freeman Hospital System and us. I don’t know where they’re going to come from. I don’t know where we’re going to put them.”

The Rev. Steve Wilson, pastor of the Grace Episcopal Church, which manages St. Luke’s Nursing Care, called on council members to approve a mask mandate as a matter of equity.

“It is simply true that in the state of Missouri today, senior citizens who are paying good money out of their pocket to live in nursing homes have had civil rights restricted to an extreme degree over the past several months,” Wilson said Tuesday. “Those folks are unable, during this holiday season, to receive visits from family or from their pastors, even if they are at death's door. This is by decree of the government of the state of Missouri. However, there is absolutely no request of any inconvenience whatsoever from those of us who are young and strong. It seems to me that if you are going to greatly inconvenience those for whom this may very well be their final Christmas, it might be reasonable to ask for some small inconveniences from the rest of us.”

Joplin attorney Deborah Ferguson spoke against the mandate on Wednesday, calling it a matter of trust.

“You've got over your city seal there ‘In God We Trust,’” Ferguson said. “But that’s not happening. You’re not trusting anyone; you’re not trusting police officers who would lay down their lives and take a bullet to defend all of you. They’re not even trusted to determine whether they want to do their own risk analysis to decide is this so dangerous we should cover our face.

"Firemen who run into burning buildings aren’t being trusted to make a decision like that. Grown men who are heads of households, spiritually and as providers, they’re not being trusted to make that simple analysis for themselves. Women who are running households, maybe even educating their children at home or in the work field, they’re being denied that ability to make that simple analysis for themselves. Free citizens are being denied the opportunity. What I would ask is that you treat them all as capable and competent.”

Lynn Andrews, whose family owns the Gaderian events center and Lillian James on the Carthage square, said he didn’t see how the city could enforce a mask mandate.

“Are there going to be police officers walking to each business making sure there’s 6 feet and not 5 1/2 feet between everyone?” Andrews said. “It’s going to be a real issue to try to enforce, it’s such a subjective thing. It’s a freedom issue, and if you choose to wear a mask, that’s awesome. But if you don’t choose to wear a mask, we shouldn’t be punished for that.”

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