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At Contentious City Council Meeting, Members Vote Against Mask Mandate

By Tim Farley, For The City Sentinel

Two measures designed to reverse the high number of COVID-19 cases were struck down by the Oklahoma City Council Tuesday (August 31) after residents opposing masks and vaccines made numerous emotionally-charged comments.

On several occasions, Mayor David Holt was forced to slam his gavel on the dais to regain control of the meeting as residents booed pro-mask comments. Specifically, anti-maskers voiced their displeasure when Phil Maytubby, director of public health protection at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, advocated for masks and vaccines. At that time, Holt threatened to kick all residents from the council chamber if they continued booing.

Maytubby supported the need for masks because of the county’s high COVID positivity rate and rising hospital admissions directly related to the virus. Maytubby told the council that as of Aug. 26, 74.3% of Oklahoma County residents 18 and older had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 62% of residents 18 and older were considered fully vaccinated.

An argumentative Ward 1 Councilman Bradley Carter questioned Maytubby about his qualifications and continued to debate Maytubby about the health department’s facts, research and hospital admissions. After more than three hours of public remarks and council discussion, the measure to require masks in public places was rejected.

In addition, the council voted against a related resolution that would have allowed the development of a vaccine promotion and incentive program funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds, plus state and local recovery money. Both proposals failed by a 5-4 vote with Holt and councilmembers James Cooper, Nikki Nice and JoBeth Hamon supporting the measures.

Councilmembers David Greenwell, Mark Stonecipher, Bradley Carter, Barbara Young and Bradley Carter opposed the agenda items.

Cooper said it isn’t the council’s job to tell the public what to do. Rather, the council should give residents the information they need to make a thoughtful decision.

However, Hamon countered that now is the time to action, arguing she does not want Oklahoma City to return to harsher restrictions like last year’s lockdowns.

The proposal to create a vaccine promotion plan would have included additional marketing, more mobile vaccination pods and hiring additional medical personnel. The councilmembers also talked about creating an incentive program that would encourage residents to get the vaccine.

However, several residents said they wanted their tax money used to fund primary government operations instead of supplying people with gifts or incentives for getting the vaccine.

Several residents, including Paula Trowbridge, claimed masks are ineffective and should not be required in public. Nicolas Stroud cited a Swiss report that claims face masks don’t protect anyone while oil and gas executive Robert Hefner IV accused government officials of seeking “too much power by enforcing face coverings.”

Hefner also complained councilmembers had more time to speak on the issues than each resident, who were given three minutes each to address the council. Hefner stood up and spoke out of turn, prompting the mayor to call a police officer to the front of the council chamber. Hefner then agreed to sit down next to his wife Carol.

The pair chastised Cooper, Nice and Hamon for placing the proposals on the agenda.

Later, Nice told the audience “too many residents are paying the price for this virus. I hope this doesn’t happen to you.”

Nice, who is black, also scolded the audience members who tried to compare the proposed face mask ordinance to Jim Crowe laws that were passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those laws, which were discriminatory toward blacks, were enforced until 1965 when the Civil Rights Act was passed a year earlier by Congress.

“Get real,” Nice hollered to the crowd. “There is no comparison. I refuse to accept that conversation in anything we’re talking about.”

Other residents argued they could not wear masks because of health reasons, which was one of 10 exceptions in the proposed ordinance.

An initial violation of the proposal would have resulted in a $10 fine followed by a $125 fine for a second offense.

The council meeting, which is broadcast on its own YouTube channel, prompted a variety of comments in the chat room with many viewers claiming their freedoms would be violated if the council enforced a face mask mandate.