The Jacksonville City Council had a lengthy discussion Monday night during New Business on whether the city should be doing more to enforce people wearing masks in the community. Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard had previously said and reiterated Monday night that the city police department doesn’t have enough manpower to walk around handing out tickets to people not wearing masks in businesses.
Police Chief Adam Mefford said during the meeting that businesses who wish to enforce “no mask, no service” policies on their property have a mechanism of dealing with the problem. Mefford explained that any patron who refuses to comply after being asked by a business owner to wear a mask upon entry and then causes a disturbance or refuses to leave can be subject to a $75 fine for disorderly conduct. Mefford says that businesses have to enforce the rule and file the complaint before a police officer will arrive and ticket someone.
Ward 5 Alderman Steve Warmowski, who brought up the idea of mask enforcement to the council, says the public needs to understand that if they are turned away from a business and then cause a disturbance for not wearing a mask they can be ticketed: “I think the word just needs to be out that the police have what they need, which is if a business owner calls and has someone who won’t wear a mask, that would be considered disorderly conduct and the police can issue a $75 fine. I think the main question is what do we need to do as a city to support small business and all businesses that if they have an issue they can call the police and the police can come and give a $75 fine to enforce the mask ordinance.”
Mefford said during the meeting that it is not “a mask ordinance.” He says disorderly conduct tickets are issued throughout the city all the time. He says that if a business owner for any reason asks someone to leave for whatever reason, and the other party causes a problem or refuse to comply with the business’ rules, the disorderly conduct citation is often used if police are called.
Warmowski says he sees enforcing mask usage in businesses and public spaces as a measure to keep schools open and the local economy open. He says he understands the idea of “COVID fatigue” but he believes masks in all businesses is one of the many things that the community can do to keep the local economy moving: “The main priority is to keep people healthy, to keep schools open so parents can go to work. If our numbers get too high, we are going to risk closure of our schools and force homeschooling. That’s something that I’m currently dealing with and it’s a struggle every day. My family is lucky enough that we have flexible jobs, but a lot of parents in our community don’t have that type of a job. So, you are going to have one parent who is going to have to stay at home and there is going to be all sorts of issues with that, and that is really going to hurt our economy and community.”
Mayor Ezard and Chief Mefford said they would enforce a mask ordinance if the City Council desired to pass one. No one on the council raised a motion for a mask ordinance for a vote on Monday night.
Morgan County Emergency Management Coordinator Phil McCarty said during the meeting that masks are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping COVID-19 numbers low. He says that staying away from large indoor gatherings, limiting exposure to the public, washing hands, and staying home if your exposed to a COVID-positive individual or if you are feeling sick also need to be done in the community. As of last week, Morgan County was at a 17.8% test positivity rate.