An ordinance requiring the wearing of face masks in public places is being fast tracked by the Abilene City Commission.
The ordinance would require persons to cover their mouths and noses with a mask inside any indoor public space where distancing of 6 feet at all times is not possible. It will be on the table at a special meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Abilene Public Library.
The public was asked to comment by sending email messages to City Clerk Penny Soukup at firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Wednesday.
City Attorney Aaron Martin reviewed the ordinance with the Abilene City Commission at a study session on Monday.
“COVID is now hitting Abilene pretty hard,” said City Manager Jane Foltz.
She said she visited with Dr. Brian Holmes, Dickinson County Health officer, and Brad Homann, county administrator.
Schools are moving to remote learning because of the increased numbers. Foltz also said that Abilene Park and Recreation activities — football, soccer and volleyball — have been suspended.
“We really feel like the wearing of masks could help slow the curve,” she said. “I know that a lot of people in our community knew that we were following the governor’s executive order as a city and as a county.”
Martin said that the current county order is difficult to enforce and would require a civil suit by the Dickinson County Attorney.
“We have a number of businesses that are not following this,” Foltz said. “I was out of town in another community that was using the face mask ordinance. I just think it is really important.
“We all agree that we do not want to shut businesses down. Our intent is to keep everybody safe,” Foltz said.
She said she asked Martin to draft a proposed ordinance so the city could enforce the county’s face mask order which follows that of the governor.
The city could approve an ordinance and under home rule impose fines for individuals and businesses that are not complying with the wearing of masks in public places.
The ordinance reads in part:
“Abilene must require all employees, customers, visitors, members or members of the public to wear a mask or other face covering when:
a. Employees are working in any space visited by customers, members of the public, or co-workers who are present at the time;
b. Employees are working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others;
c. Customers, members, visitors or members of the public are in a facility managed by the business or organization;
d. Employees are working in or walking through areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators and parking facilities;
e. Employees are in any room or enclosed area where people (except for individuals who reside together) are present and are unable to maintain a 6-foot distance except for infrequent or incidental moments for closer proximity.
“I’m not here to advocate for it by any means,” Martin said. “It’s a tricky issue, especially to enforce it.”
There are exemptions in the proposed ordinance such as children, medical conditions, deaf or hard of hearing people and athletes.
Fines ranging from $50 to $150 depending on number of violations could be issued.
Abilene Assistant Police Chief Jason Wilkins said the department was willing to enforce any approved ordinance.
“Mainly we want to educate people. Our intent is not to fine people. Our intent is to get businesses and the public to please follow the face mask covering mandate,” Foltz said. “The fine piece we just threw numbers in there. If you want it to be more or less or whatever that is your prerogative.
“Jason (Wilkins) is not going to be knocking on every church door or business but when we get a complaint, we can deal with it. And we have been getting them,” Foltz added. “There are a number of businesses here that are not adhering to the mask covering. With home rule we can do this for the city and hopefully get our city protected but our intent is to not fine these people. Our intent is to have safety first by wearing masks.
“The last thing we want to do is punish businesses,” she said. “We do not want businesses to close and if this blows up like it kind of did today, and it’s probably going to go higher, we want people to wear face masks to keep businesses open.”
The ordinance would go into effect after being published in the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle.
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.