Mayor Herzig Halts Mask
Mandate In Private Homes
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – With concerns over enforcement and overreach, Mayor Gary Herzig, who has pushed mask mandates, has vetoed the City of Oneonta’s proposed mask law Tuesday, Oct. 20.
“I fully support wearing masks,” said Herzig. “The intent of the law was to make local enforcement more effective. However, I do not believe this ordinance will achieve that purpose, and I will exercise my right to veto this law,” he said.
The law, modeled on the state’s executive order requiring people to wear masks in all “public and private indoor and outdoor locations” when they cannot socially distance, passed at the Tuesday, Oct. 6, meeting
of Common Council on a 5-2 vote along party lines, with one abstention.
At a public hearing Tuesday evening, many of the comments voiced support for wearing masks in public, but balked at the language that required masks to be worn in private homes.
Kevin Perch, a SUNY Oneonta senior who sits on the city’s Control Room and serves as chief of staff for the student association, was among those expressing concerns.
“I advocate for wearing masks wholeheartedly,” he said. “I’ve mulled back and forth the past couple of days, and ultimately came to a decision – enforcing masks on streets and in business is appropriate, but I do not think that the legislation that is on table is one I want to see signed into law.”
Conversely, Steve Londner, in a letter to Common Council, expressed concern that the ordinance left open too many possibilities for spread of COVID-19.
“There’s an exception in the law that says a person playing a sport doesn’t have to wear one,” he said. “But if the intent is to limit the spread, it seems odd that a group of students talking quietly needs masks, but a group playing basketball and panting does not.”
Fran Colone also wrote a letter. “The required enforcement on private property is excessive,” he said. “If I’m mowing my lawn and my neighbor stops to chat, are we both ticketed? How crazy is that?”
Bill Waller, Cooperstown, attended the meeting to share his experience with the law Cooperstown passed this summer.
“Our sidewalks were so narrow that the social distancing was forcing people into the street,” he said. “We mandated masks on Main Street, and we’ve issued a few tickets, but overall, it was a successful, mask-wearing summer.”
He also clarified how the “private home,” language came to be. “It is my under-standing that this is for places like New York City, where buildings include areas like vestibules and lobbies,” he said. “They’re private homes, but public spaces.”
Only one letter writer, Ronda Zuk, disagreed with the entire law.
“Since Otsego County no longer has a State of Emergency (it ended on April 13, 2020) it has no authority to make or enforce a mask mandate,” she wrote. “Of Otsego County’s 60,244 residents only seven people or .012 percent of the county’s population have died from COVID-19. Clearly this virus is not a deadly threat to the overwhelming majority of residents. However, governmental overreach such as this mask mandate is a threat to the freedoms we used to enjoy as Americans.”
At the end of public comment, Herzig echoed the speakers concerns. “If you’re walking down Main Street without a mask on and someone walks out of a store in front of you, you’re in violation of the law,” he said. “But we can’t expect the police to follow someone down the street and wait to ticket them.”
Herzig said that he would sign an ordinance that required masks in the business district.
“That is where it is most needed,” he said. “If we can move forward with an ordinance that addresses our area of greatest risk, it has my support.”