By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – With a 5-2 split on party lines and one abstention, Oneonta Common Council Tuesday, Oct. 6, moved closer to applying the state’s “Mask and Face Coverings” law locally, potentially bringing it into everyone’s living rooms.
Echoing the state law, the local law that is now going to public hearing requires people to where masks in all “public and private indoor and outdoor locations” when they cannot socially distance.
“This law covers nothing that isn’t already covered in the Governor’s executive orders,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. The law is intended to enable OPD to enforce the provisions, now in Public Health Law, within city limits.
“Right now, it’s difficult to write a ticket because we don’t have a way to reference the executive order,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner, “This just makes it easier, like we were writing a ticket for littering.”
“The police aren’t going to go around knocking on people’s doors,” said Herzig. “If someone calls in a large, noisy party and the police find that there is not appropriate social distancing, this gives them the authority to ticket them under city law.”
Democratic Council members Luke Murphy, First Ward, David Rissberger, Third Ward, Kaytee Lipari Shue, Fourth Ward, John Rafter, Seventh Ward and Mark Drnek, Eighth Ward, all voted yes.
The nays were Republicans Len Carson, Fifth Ward, and Scott Harrington, Sixth Ward.
Democrat Mark Davies, Second Ward, abstained. “As an employee of SUNY, I need to recuse myself,”
“I disagree with that statement,” said City Attorney David Merzig. “The law will be applied to all citizens.”
Explaining his vote, Murphy said, “Two days ago, I was walking past someone on Main Street, and it was so busy that we couldn’t get six feet apart without going on someone’s lawn. Luckily we both had masks.”
“It’s about marketing,” said Drnek. “People don’t want to come to Oneonta because they have a perception that it’s unsafe, but when I wear a mask, and you wear a mask, we know it’s safe to shop, to dine, to visit local merchants. Our community needs to know it’s safe to be in downtown Oneonta.”
“I’ve taken more engagement on this than any other issue since I started,” said Carson. “And 99 percent of the people I speak to are totally against this.”
“I understand the importance of wearing a mask,” said Harrington. “But I spoke to a lot of people in my ward, and they feel like it’s an overreach, that they’re adults and they know the guidelines.”
“We have a public health law, and I never hear complaining about the masks,” said Rissberger. “But as soon as we’re about to solidify the law, people get upset, which makes me wonder if they’re really wearing the mask.
It’s no different than the seatbelt law or the car seat laws. If the public health law isn’t overreach, than neither is this.”
The law now moves to a public hearing, which will be held Tuesday, Oct. 20. Following the public hearing, Herzig will then have to sign the law.