By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
The Yukon City Council voted 4-1 at its Tuesday night meeting to postpone making any revisions to an emergency proclamation that could have mandated masks in public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Shelli Selby voted no, against postponing action. Selby – after receiving input from members of Yukon’s COVID-19 Task Force – had proposed revising her emergency proclamation to require people to wear masks while in public until Dec. 10 in the City of Yukon.
But Yukon’s mayor emphasized that she wanted the entire city council to make the decision.
During a study session before Tuesday night’s council meeting, Selby quoted statistics from the Canadian County Health Department indicating COVID-19 active daily cases had doubled in recent weeks.
She pointed to recent closures of City of Yukon facilities, positive tests among Yukon fire and police personnel and full patient capacity at local hospitals due to COVID cases.
Yukon’s mayor did acknowledge a mask mandate would be difficult to enforce.
“What do I want from all of this?” Selby said. “I want people to do the right thing and wear a mask without having to be told to. I don’t want to do a mask mandate.
“But folks, we’ve been trying this for six months and it’s just not working. I don’t vote for what I want; I vote for what’s best for Yukon.”
Yukon’s mayor believes having a mask mandate would help the economy because people won’t shop or eat here without one.
But Selby was the only council member advocating for a citywide mask requirement Tuesday night.
Vice Mayor Jeff Wootton said he’s been against the city council having a mask mandate, saying that’s crossing the line.
“I’m not saying we should not be using masks; I use one every day,” said Wootton, a Yukon schoolteacher. “I think that’s our choice.”
Ward 3 City Council Member Donna Yanda said she didn’t think people should be “forced to do anything” but be “smart in what they do.” Yanda also believes COVID-19 case numbers have been inflated.
“It’s sometimes being used as a tool for financial gain in certain situations,” she opined.
Several council members and residents referred to vagueness in the draft language of the proposed change, which states the public must wear masks “at all times” while in public.
“I can’t vote for it as it sits,” Ward 4 City Council Member Aric Gilliland said. “It doesn’t say ‘if you’re in groups’ or ‘if you’re near people’. It says, ‘if you’re in public’.”
As the proposed proclamation revision is now written, Gilliland said someone could be fined for not wearing a face mask when walking to their mailbox. There also are no medical exemptions provided in the draft.
Gilliland cited statistics indicating Oklahoma City’s mask mandate – in effect since July 17 – has made little difference in curbing the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Ward 1 City Councilman Rick Cacini made the motion to postpone, saying further study was needed on the current proposed revision to the emergency ordinance. He said the document “has some holes in it.”
“As you can see, it’s not going anywhere,” Cacini said.
AGREE TO DISAGREE
Yukon’s current COVID-19 emergency proclamation requires restaurant servers, bartenders and cooks to wear masks on duty and anyone who enters a city-owned building to don a face covering to protect city employees.
Mayor Selby said she created the COVID-19 Task Force to rebut criticism she was making decisions on her own. She said she received input from city administrators, fellow council members and many medical professionals before signing the current proclamation.
After last week’s task force meeting, the mayor related that members agreed “it was time for the city council to make some decisions.”
Most task force members wanted a mask mandate, and those who didn’t at least wanted the council to vote on the item.
Near the end of Tuesday night’s meeting after the 4-1 vote to postpone indefinitely, both Vice Mayor Wootton and Council Member Gilliland told Mayor Selby they respected her for her stance although they disagree with her on this issue.
“I will have her back because I know she’s operating in what she believes is the best interest of the people of Yukon,” Gilliland said.
Before closing the meeting, Yukon’s mayor joined fellow council members in thanking residents who came out to speak on the issue.
“That’s why it’s great that we can live in America,” Selby said. “We can disagree and still work together. We have that ability to speak our mind and to say what we want to.”
About a dozen Yukon-area residents gave the city council their opinions about the proposed mask requirement during Tuesday night’s meeting (see related story).