Council OKs resolution encouraging everyone to wear masks
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs City Council sent the message loud and clear on Monday night: Everyone should be wearing masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Mayor Butch Berry presented a resolution to the council that encourages the use of masks in relation to the pandemic, saying he worked with the Arkansas Municipal League to put the resolution together. Berry said Eureka Springs is one of many cities with a similar resolution.
“There’s been a lot of comments about … people wanting and encouraging me and the city council to enact ordinances requiring citizens to wear masks, so this is a resolution to that point,” Berry said.
It’s a resolution and not an ordinance, Berry said, because an ordinance would be unenforceable. Berry recalled the city of Fayetteville’s recent ordinance mandating masks, an ordinance he said is overridden by Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision not to mandate mask wearing throughout the state.
“The ordinances that have been passed, unfortunately, are unenforceable,” Berry said. “A city cannot supersede the state. What I’m hoping we can do is encourage everyone in the city to take responsibility to wear their masks at all times, especially going into … public places.”
Berry said no one will be fined if they aren’t wearing a mask.
“It’s just an encouragement,” Berry said.
Council member Mickey Schneider asked why the city isn’t trying to mandate mask wearing and Berry said the city does not have that authority.
“We cannot mandate people to wear masks. Only the governor and secretary of health have that authority,” Berry said.
“So regardless of the fact that Fayetteville has done it and the governor said he won’t go after them,” Schneider said.
“It’s an illegal ordinance. It is unenforceable,” Berry said. “If we tried to enforce that and we had somebody and we gave them a fine, it would go to court and get thrown out because it’s an illegal ordinance.”
Schneider said citizens want a mandate.
“They understand there’s no way we can enforce it, but they’d be willing to have this mandated so that the people, at least some of the people, would then go ahead and wear a mask,” Schneider said.
“This allows the citizens to take action for themselves rather than the government taking action for the citizens,” Berry said. “It’s up to the citizens to wear masks. That’s what this resolution does.”
Council member Susan Harman said the resolution seems moot.
“If I were to read this … I’d think maybe you didn’t think I was smart enough as a citizen to realize this is one of the ways to prevent this,” Harman said.
Berry said the resolution will be sent to Hutchinson.
“It just shows the governor that we are in support of people wearing masks and hopefully he will take that under advisement,” Berry said.
Council member Harry Meyer called the resolution “the best we can do.”
“If all our little towns send a copy of this into the governor, maybe he will respond,” Meyer said. “We need to send a message to him and send a message to our citizens that says, ‘Hey, we believe masks are a good thing.’ ”
Council member Melissa Greene agreed.
“It shows that we as the city and city officials tried really hard to come up with something that may work,” Greene said. “This is going to go to the governor, and if we get enough of these, maybe he’ll listen.”
Council member Bob Thomas moved to assign the resolution a number and read it for passage, and the council unanimously agreed to do so.
Also at the meeting, the council voted down a resolution to have a fireworks show on July 3. Schneider said “100 percent of the local people who live and reside in Eureka” do not want to have the show.
“This year, 100 percent say no to fireworks. I’d like to know what’s the big deal with the stupid fireworks,” Schneider said. “What happens when a person’s house … starts on fire? Who is responsible? The mayor told us last year it’s not the city because we have tort immunity.”
Greene said Berry has refused to sign off on any event permits until September and called the fireworks show an event.
“It is still an event, even if it comes to our city disguised as a resolution,” Greene said. “I stand by Mayor Berry’s decision. I do want to encourage tourism, but I want it to be safe for our tourists and our businesses.”
Greene said Northwest Arkansas is one of the biggest hot spots in the nation when it comes to the rise of COVID-19 cases.
“This, to me, is not a wise idea. Who is going to police them when they stand shoulder to shoulder like they did last year in Basin Park?” Greene asked. “The Fourth of July can be a magical time celebrating with family and friends our country’s independence. Unfortunately, COVID has changed how we do things.”
Council member Terry McClung said the fireworks would be for locals and whoever happens to be in town that weekend.
“They can be viewed from all sorts of locations all over town. There’s not any one concentration like when they were done at Leatherwood,” McClung said. “I’ve not heard anything adverse to fireworks except from Ms. Schneider.”
“Like anything else in Eureka, there will be some who will want them and some who won’t,” Harman said. “I think what Ms. Schneider was maybe referring to is the number of people she has talked to. That could be 100 percent, but to say 100 percent of all people in Eureka Springs said no would be a false statement.”
Greene reiterated that fireworks are an event and Thomas asked Berry why he is willing to override his own no-permit policy.
“In this case, I think it’s something for citizens,” Berry said. “It’s also the 142nd birthday of Eureka Springs. It’s a celebration of Eureka Springs, so to me, it is a special day.”
McClung moved to assign the resolution a number and read it for passage, and Schneider objected.
“I am really damn sure people understand it and would rather have you sit there and stick to your guns and keep them … healthy and safe than do something this lame and this stupid,” Schneider said. “Does nobody listen to the people?”
McClung called for a vote and the resolution failed, with Harman and McClung voting yes and Schneider, Thomas, Greene and Meyer voting no.
The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, July 13, at The Auditorium.