Council opts for maskless meetings

The Keizer City Council approved its first ordinance pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic at its meeting Monday, July 6. The only issue that created consternation was the use of masks during city meetings. 

“The question before the council is whether you want to wear masks even with the [physical] separation,” said City Attorney Shannon Johnson. 

Since the council resumed in-person meetings in June, all the meeting participants have maintained a six-foot separation and not worn masks during discussions. The ordinance formalizes the city’s declaration of a state of emergency and outlines how the city will conduct business to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

The section of the ordinance that drew additional debate would have required the city to follow all guidance of the Oregon Health Authority, which includes requirements that masks be worn at all times in indoor public spaces unless the council directed otherwise. Councilors approved the ordinance after removing that provision. 

“The way, I understand it is that once you are stationary, masks may be removed,” said Mayor Cathy Clark. She likened city meetings to a sit-down restaurant where customers would be permitted to remove masks while eating. 

Johnson countered that if the OHA guidance was followed in its most literal interpretation, masks would be required for everyone.”

Given that guidance, Councilor Dan Kohler suggested leaving the language in out of “wisdom and prudence.”

Johnson responded that if the language was left in, then the council would have to take the additional step of defining other guidance. 

In light of that, Councilor Elizabeth Smith felt that removing the strict mandate to follow OHA guidance should be removed. 

“I am a big proponent of wearing a mask, but if we’re removing them once we are sitting down and distanced, I’m okay with that,” said Councilor Roland Herrera. “I think it makes good sense and it’s worked for us so far.”

Councilor Laura Reid, attempting to keep the peace in response to whatever ire the council decision could elicit from the public, had the final word on the matter. 

“[Wearing masks] is part of the cost of living in civilization. It is not infringing on anyone’s rights or government control. The science may or may not be clear, but we are looking out for each other. This is part of a public response to a public health crisis and we do [wear masks] as responsible citizens,” Reid said.