Instead of the typical laid back discussion of one of its workshops, Greenwood City Council had a spirited debate Monday on a possible face mask requirement.
During the workshop, Mayor Brandon Smith convened an emergency meeting for council to discuss whether to mandate face coverings.
“I’m not opposed to a mask resolution or ordinance,” Smith said. He said he had three questions that he wanted to answer:
- Why has the city never enacted a mask ordinance before?
- Why is it being considered now?
- Under what conditions would the city enact a mask ordinance in the future?
The first to weigh in after the mayor was City Councilman Ronnie Ables.
“I am positively opposed to face masks,” Ables said.
The mayor responded to Ables with his agreement in principle but added that the purpose was to protect the most vulnerable. Others were in favor of a mask requirement.
“We need a mandatory face mask ordinance,” City Councilwoman Betty Boles said, adding that the importance of wearing a mask isn’t just to protect the wearer. “If you don’t want to do it for you, do it for me.”
The discussion got heated when Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Miller confronted Ables about not wearing a mask. Ables was the only member of council not wearing a mask.
“I have conditions that could in fact kill me if I got this,” Miller said and then turned to Ables. “And to see you sitting next to me after I have already requested everybody at this meeting wear a mask is completely inconsiderate to me.”
Ables was seated next to Miller. When Smith asked Ables if he wanted to respond, Ables turned his attention to Smith.
“Why are you wearing a mask?” Ables said. “To show your support for it? I’m not wearing a mask to show my support against wearing a mask.”
Miller said it was council’s responsibility to take up this issue regardless of whether some in the public disagree.
“If you don’t like what we do, then in November vote us out,” Miller said.
City Councilwoman Niki Hutto, who was participating through teleconference from Pennsylvania, suggested that the city work in conjunction with the county.
“Everyone up here is wearing a mask,” Hutto said.
City Councilman Johnathan Bass suggested a joint city and county workshop to work with members of both councils. Many other council members voiced their agreement.
Greenwood City Manager Julie Wilkie asked interim Police Chief T.J. Chaudoin to address the council on the enforceability of a mask ordinance.
Chaudoin shared some of the research that he has done on enforcement of mask ordinances in other jurisdictions. He also shared some of his concerns about a lack of manpower to enforce it.
“We do not have the manpower to deal with it,” Chaudoin said.
When the discussion began to wind down, the mayor invited members of the public who had attended to give their opinion on the matter.
Michael Coleman, who owns Bikes and Boards, expressed his opposition to a mask ordinance.
“I do not like masks,” Coleman said. “I do not want any of my customers to be forced to wear masks.”
Daniel Jackson was also opposed to a mask ordinance but would be fine with a less intrusive measure.
“I like the idea of a nonbinding resolution,” Jackson said.
Wilkie said that city staff would draft an ordinance and a resolution based on the discussion for city council to consider. Greenwood County Council will meet at 4 p.m. today. The agenda does not list any discussion items related to a mask mandate.