Provo City Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto On Mask Ordinance

Aug 27, 2020, 6:41 PM | Updated: Aug 28, 2020, 10:36 am

PROVO, Utah – The Provo City Council voted to override Mayor Michelle Kaufusi’s veto on the city’s mask ordinance.

The council met Thursday in a special session to revote on the ordinance. The final vote was 6-1 in favor of overriding the veto.

“We think a mandate will minimize the risk. It will minimize the intensity and maybe frequency of outbreaks,” said George Handley, chair of the Provo City Council. “The fact that the mayor and city council had a strong difference of opinion on this is no indication of any rift in the city leadership.”

It was passed by a unanimous vote by the City Council on Tuesday, and Kaufusi immediately told council members she planned to veto it.

According to the ordinance, face coverings are required “in indoor areas accessible to the public (including businesses and public buildings) wherever social distancing of at least 6 feet from people you don’t live with is not possible.”

Coverings are also required for any indoor gathering with 50 or more people, and at outdoor gatherings with 25 people or more where social distancing is not possible.

The council listed several exemptions in the ordinance, including children under 5 years old, those with medical exemptions that prohibit wearing a mask and for those who are eating or drinking while seated at a restaurant or other food service establishment.

The hot topic of masks has been the focus of three meetings the council has had over the last week. A last-ditch effort to prepare for the return of tens of thousands of students to the city for the start of BYU classes on Monday.

Thursday’s relatively short meeting was a response to Kaufusi’s veto. A letter from the mayor to the city council outlined three reasons why she disagreed with the approach of a mandate.

  1. Not a single major community partner, apart from the City Council, has asked or encouraged her to issue a mask mandate
  2. She doesn’t want to burden the police department with enforcing the mandate
  3. She believes the right path is to treat citizens as trustworthy and compassionate partners

The council voted six to one to override the mayor’s veto after the ordinance passed the council unanimously.

“We were hoping that they would listen to her position but there’s such strong feelings on this one so we knew it might go this way and we can accept that,” said Deputy Mayor Isaac Paxman.

Paxman echoed the mayor’s concern that the mandate could put an unnecessary burden on police officers.

“It’s a tough time for police officers and do we want to have more citizen police encounters that can be messy? Do we want to have them deescalate more situations? Is that the right answer,” Paxman said.

He also reiterated the mayor’s hope that the city would trust its citizens to make the right choice when it comes to wearing face coverings.

“They love to do things out of no compulsion. And the mayor’s really sensitive to that saying, ‘let’s cheer our residents on.’ These are good people who will do the right thing,” he said.

The ordinance requires face masks in public indoor areas and at large gatherings. It carries a $55 fine for individuals and a $500 fine for event organizers not in compliance.

“We need an ordinance to have some sort of teeth in it in order for it to be taken seriously,” Handley said. “At the same time we do not want, nor do I think the administration wants, for this to become an onerous thing where people are getting fined for silly infractions or superficial issues.”

The city council and mayor’s office agree they have the same goal in mind. And both branches of government expressed hope that its citizens would respect one another in this unique environment that has sometimes proven hostile.

“I sure wish at least on the social media side, Provo could kick it up a notch,” Paxman said.

“The real concern that I think I share with [the mayor] is Provo ready for this,” Handley said. “I just hope that the citizens of Provo can rise up to the challenge and meet it with the good spirit of understanding.”

The mandate goes into effect immediately. It will expire on Nov. 14, unless the council makes changes by Oct. 20.

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Provo City Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto On Mask Ordinance