Clarkston City Council adopts mask mandate ordinance

Gigi Stanor checks his cell phone while passing a sign placed by the Clarkston COVID-19 Task Force, in partnership with the City of Clarkston and DeKalb County on July 25, 2020. The task force distributed thousands of masks, hand sanitizer, and educational material to apartment communities in Clarkston to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston City Council adopted a mask mandate ordinance at the regular meeting on Tuesday, March 2, by a 4-1 vote.

The city adopted a mask mandate resolution in July 2020 requiring people in public spaces or businesses to wear face coverings and stated that warnings and citations would be issued. The City Council expressed an interest in adopting an ordinance for face masks, City Manager Robin Gomez said.

“An ordinance is perceived by many as more serious, enforceable, and more formal than a resolution,” Gomez told the Tucker Observer. “However, both are legally just as equally enforceable. We (Police and Code Compliance) can write a citation from either one.”

The mask ordinance is a little stronger and a definite law for all to follow, Gomez added.

Clarkston’s mask ordinance requires all customers, employees and other users to wear a mask or face covering that covers the mouth and nose while indoors at restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores and all other public places.

All public places within the city must post a sign at each public entrance to the business stating that masks are required for entrance and the signs will be provided by the city.

Signs posted at restaurants will clarify that masks are required when customers enter, are otherwise not seated at their table, and when they exit.

Face masks are also required outdoors when people who don’t live in the same household cannot be at least 6 feet away from one another.

According to the ordinance, reasonable exceptions to wearing a mask are permitted for:

– Children under the age of 10

– Those who can’t wear a mask due to a documented medical or behavioral condition

– Those whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face mask

– While eating or drinking

– When complying with the directions of law enforcement or for the purposes of verifying one’s identity.

The police department, code compliance and the city manager will enforce the ordinance. Anyone who doesn’t comply with the ordinance will first be given a warning and an opportunity to put on a mask or leave the area. The enforcers will also offer masks when providing a warning.

If someone refuses to comply with the ordinance after being given a warning and offered a face mask, they will be issued a citation by either police officers or code compliance. Those found to be in violation of the ordinance will be given a $25 fine by the Municipal Court.

The ordinance will remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2022, unless repealed, modified or extended by the City Council.

Vice Mayor Awet Eyasu opposed the measure due to general concerns about fining residents and visitors.

“I do agree from a public health point of view, the use of masks,” Eyasu said. “However, I really wish this was a resolution to educate people and to give them free masks without the threat of citing them or even adding a fine. I’m just am in principle opposed to the idea of fining people.”

His biggest concern is Clarkston’s immigrant community and the residents who do not speak English and may not understand what’s happening when someone tries to give them a mask or if they have to interact with the police.

“I believe this is an overreach by our local government,” Eyasu said. “I’m not opposed to [the idea of] encouraging and educating our residents. I’m just opposed in principle to the idea of citing somebody for not wearing a mask.”

Assistant Police Chief Harry Hess raised some concerns about putting an extra burden on the police department, especially with providing a warning first and then issuing a citation.

“With our system that we currently use for e-citations we do have the ability to track it for if we issued a written warning,” Hess said. “My concern with that would be there is a slight delay to upload into the system, usually 24 to 48 hours, to be able to track who we’ve provided warnings to, and that is if we write a written warning.”

He added that it would be virtually impossible to track verbal warnings, which officers provide a lot of the time.

The way the ordinance is written the warning occurs on the spot, City Attorney Stephen Quinn said. The idea is that if an officer stops someone they would inform the individual they are violating the ordinance and give them three options.

“Number one is that you can leave this public place. Number two is you can put on this mask that I’m offering you and then carry about your business. And number three is if you refuse options one and two, then I’m gonna have to issue you a citation. So it all happens during the one encounter,” Quinn said.

The intent is not to create a burden on the police department, Councilmember Laura Hopkins said. Her hope is that if residents or visitors are offered a mask they would take it and put it on.

“I know people feel like their rights are being violated but I don’t think they realize that by expecting people to wear a mask we are not asking you to protect yourself,” Hopkins said. “That’s up to you. If you want to risk getting sick that’s entirely up to you. We’re asking you to protect us.”

In other business:

— Mayor Beverly Burks mentioned that a Free99Fridge opened a refrigerator at Refuge Coffee Co.

“The refrigerators are placed across metro Atlanta and address food insecurity,” Burks wrote on Facebook. “They also shed light on the social injustice facing many communities. Our refrigerator is in honor of Sandra Bland.”

The fridge is open 24/7 so it can be used any time during the day and people can donate food any time as well. Those wishing to donate can simply go to the fridge and put the food inside the fridge and/or pantry.

— The City Council denied Kathleen Andres and Steve Goff’s request to abandon Wagoner Street as it still serves a public transportation purpose. However the city did agree to conduct research and figure out a solution to mitigate the traffic on the street.

— The City Council additionally created a task force that will provide policy and training recommendations to the city regarding the Clarkston Police Department.

The task force will look at training to assist the police department to be more focused on community policing, Mayor Beverly Burks said at the Feb. 23 work session.

The task force will report to the city’s public safety and legal committees and would be composed of various individuals and members of organizations. These include the NAACP, faith based organizations, schools, mental health experts, domestic violence advocates, those seeking criminal justice reform, nonprofits that work with teens and multicultural organizations.

Burks also explained that there would also be individual representation from people with experience in criminal justice, law, and diversity and inclusion, Tucker Observer previously reported.

The City Council will meet again on Tuesday, March 30, at 7 p.m. via Zoom for a work session.

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