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story.lead_photo.caption Fulton's City Council was able to to conduct all three readings and the final vote on the mask ordinance Tuesday night by treating it as an emergency ordinance. Photo by Helen Wilbers / News Tribune.

This article is free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community. 

An ordinance establishing a mask mandate for the city of Fulton passed as an emergency ordinance at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The ordinance will go into effect Dec. 1 and will expire 90 days afterward — though the council may move to change that date.

"It's not about limiting freedom. It's about trying to protect my community," said Ward 3 Councilwoman Lindsey Pace-Snook. "I don't want to lose any more lives."

Ward 1's Valerie Sebacher and Ward 4's Rick Shiverdecker voted against the ordinance, while the other six council members voted in favor.

The ordinance was originally on the agenda for its first reading Tuesday, but Ward 2's Mary Rehklau motioned to amend the agenda and treat the ordinance as an emergency ordinance, allowing the council to conduct all three readings and the final vote on the ordinance in a single night.

Treating it as an emergency ordinance, however, meant the ordinance needed at least a 6-2 vote to pass, instead of the usual simple majority. Rehklau's motion to amend passed, with Ward 1 Councilwoman Valerie Sebacher, Ward 3's John Braun and Ward 4's Rick Shiverdecker opposing.

Braun made a separate motion to strike a number of paragraphs that would have established occupancy limits for various types of businesses and banned self-serve buffets, which passed.

Ward 4 Councilman Bob Washington motioned at the Nov. 10 meeting to put the ordinance on Tuesday's agenda. He cited rising COVID-19 numbers within Fulton and the wider county, state and nation.

According to data from the Callaway County Health Department, the county has recorded 12 deaths due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. As of Monday, there were 692 cases active in the county. According to data shared with council members from the CCHD, 109 of those active cases were within Fulton.

For and against

News that the mask ordinance first drafted this summer was finally on the agenda drew many emails and phone calls from city residents, both in opposition and in support, according to Mayor Lowe Cannell. However, no residents opted to speak during the public comment period at Tuesday's meeting.

City Council members, too, were divided.

Shiverdecker stridently opposed passing a mask ordinance, claiming that council members lack the medical training necessary to decide whether wearing a mask was safe and/or necessary.

Pace-Snook pointed out the ordinance contains an exemption for those with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask.

Ward 2's Jeff Stone, a regional manager with hospital chain SSM Health, said he can't ignore people dying at his workplace. Health care workers can't continue to be the first line of defense in the pandemic, he said.

"We need to become our own first line of defense," he added.

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The ordinance

The proposed ordinance is based on one previously passed in Springfield. It requires all people older than 8 to wear a mask when in a place of "public accommodation," meaning any indoor or outdoor facility open to and used by the public (schools, social clubs, transportation services, retail stores, and so on). Masks must cover both the nose and mouth. Children younger than 9 are "strongly encouraged" but not required to wear masks.

The ordinance makes the following exceptions:

People with a health condition prohibiting wearing a face covering are exempted from the ordinance, as are people who have trouble breathing or are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.

People who are hearing impaired or are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired (where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication) are also exempt.

Masks aren't required at a swimming pool or when people are playing a sport or exercising.

Masks aren't required outdoors as long as people maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet from non-household members.

Masks aren't required while people are eating or drinking, so long as groups of patrons are spaced at least 6 feet apart (or are divided by solid barriers at least 6 feet tall); however, people must wear masks while waiting to be seated or walking to or from seating, the bathroom, etc.

Masks aren't required for people working in settings which might increase the risk of a heat-related illness.

Masks also aren't required while someone is receiving a service that necessitates mask removal, such as a dental exam.

Speakers and performers may remove masks while in front of groups, so long as they maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.

Several sections establishing occupancy limits were removed by a motion passed Tuesday.

Penalties

A person who fails to wear a mask as required by the ordinance shall be considered guilty of a violation of a municipal ordinance and can be fined up to $100.

An owner/manager/operator (owner, for simplicity) of a public accommodation who fails to comply or require compliance with the mask-wearing portion of the ordinance is guilty of a violation of a municipal ordinance, punishable by a fine of up to $100. The city may also revoke or suspend any permits or licenses the owner holds with the city for the premises.

However, if the owner of a public accommodation requires compliance with the ordinance but a customer or patron refuses to wear a mask, the owner won't be considered in violation of the ordinance.

If the public accommodation violates other requirements of the ordinance (such as social distancing or occupancy limit requirements), its owner is guilty of a misdemeanor, as defined in city code.

Repeated violations on separate days will be considered separate violations.

Any violation of the ordinance is a "public nuisance" which the city can abate by any means provided for by the law, including injunctions or restraining orders.

The ordinance says little about how the city will handle enforcement. According to Fulton Director of Administration Bill Johnson, enforcement will fall to the Fulton Police Department.

"It'll be complaint-driven," he said. "We won't have officers patrolling for it."

Residents may call the FPD's non-emergency line, 573-592-3100, to register complaints.

Johnson discouraged residents from taking enforcement into their own hands.

Residents may request copies of the ordinance from City Hall.

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