By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A state legislator is challenging the mayor’s ability to require people to wear face masks as part of a City of Yukon proclamation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The mayor does not have the authority to issue the content of that emergency proclamation that she thinks she does,” said District 43 State Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon.
“A municipality can’t enact or enforce a rule, regulation or ordinance that is inconsistent with state law. There’s no state law authorizing any government entity in the state to put anyone in a mask. So that’s an issue.”
Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby signed an updated emergency proclamation on July 10 stating the City of Yukon requires:
• All employees of bars and restaurants to wear masks at all times.
• Any member of the public entering a City of Yukon building to wear a mask at all times while in the building.
• Any venue using theater-style seating to implement staggered seating, either by the closure of every other row or the functional equivalent, with at least two seats between separate parties.
The latest proclamation updates a City of Yukon emergency declaration first signed March 25 outlining requirements and recommendations for high-risk activities. This was intended to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Mayor Selby said Rep. Steagall “has every right” to challenge her actions, but she “falls back on what our legal representation for the City of Yukon says, and that is that we are within our legal rights for making that proclamation.”
The proclamation refers to State of Oklahoma data reflecting a “significant upward trend in new cases of COVID since mid-June” as Canadian County also has “experienced an increase in new cases” reflective of this statewide trend.
“(D)ue to the urgency of the situation and the advice and recommendations of public health professionals, I have determined that an actual emergency exists that requires the use of measures to secure the safety and protection of public life and health,” according to the proclamation signed by Selby.
The document refers to a “significant increase” in positive tests and hospitalizations in Yukon and Oklahoma City that have occurred in phase three of Oklahoma’s COVID reopening plan.
The City of Yukon had 421 positive cases on July 24 with two deaths and 347 recoveries, according to the Oklahoma State Health Department.
Oklahoma City tops the list among municipalities statewide with 5,804 cases, including 75 deaths and 4,496 recoveries.
The July 24 data shows there were 786 cases in Canadian County with four deaths and 638 recoveries. Canadian County is now ranked fifth in most cases among Oklahoma’s 77 counties, behind Oklahoma, Tulsa, Cleveland, and Texas.
Selby, who became Yukon’s mayor in May, defended the City of Yukon’s emergency proclamation – pointing out that City Attorney Gary Miller has determined it to be legal.
“In an emergency situation, the mayor has the right to make a proclamation,” she said.
“We have been in an emergency state since back in March when the president declared that” because of the pandemic.
“(Miller) said not only are we covered by City statutes, but also by state statutes. It is not a mandatory mask (for everyone). It is just for servers, cooks and bartenders.”
LAWYERS ‘READY TO SUE’
While the City of Yukon has mandated masks for employees in bars and restaurants and everyone inside City-owned buildings, the City of Oklahoma City has taken it a step further.
Oklahoma City now requires everyone to wear face coverings in indoor public places. Violators are subject to fines.
“There are lawyers waiting for someone to get fined over this because they’re ready to sue the city,” Rep. Steagall said.
“And it’s not just here. It’s in other cities as well.
“At every restaurant I stop at, I’m telling them they don’t have to follow this order. I’m trying to be helpful and trying to prevent any pending litigation.”
Rep. Steagall said businesses could have recourse to sue the City of Yukon if they believe they’ve been hurt by what he called an “unauthorized” proclamation.
The District 43 state representative noted Yukon’s mayor is not elected by voters.
“We have a ceremonial mayor position, so we’ve got one city council person making the decisions for the entire city, with authority they don’t have that they’re deriving from a state statute that has nothing to do with dealing with a pandemic,” Steagall argued.
He contended there’s a “separation of powers” problem in the proclamation.
“The mayor can’t make up new rules and enforce them,” Steagall said. “The council has to vote on new rules or ordinances; the mayor can then choose which ones they’re going to enforce during an emergency. But none of this was voted on by the council.”
State health department officials have told Yukon city leaders that masks are effective, Mayor Selby said.
“This is an airborne virus,” she said.
“Their recommendation was for mandatory masks, but we’re not doing that.”
Selby noted food service employees are dealing with food that their customers ingest.