Council passes penalty-free resolution strongly recommending face coverings

In the first of what is expected to be a two-part action, the Bainbridge Island City Council approved a resolution “strongly encouraging” people to wear face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The issue had been put forward by Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos, who cited many other cities of various size around the country which have already enacted such measures, at the previous week’s meeting, where it was decided by unanimous vote the city attorney would author both a draft ordinance and resolution for more specific discussion at the June 9 meeting.

On Tuesday, council members had before them both actions: the resolution, which contained no enforcement specifications or penalties for non-compliance, and an ordinance, which would legally mandate the wearing of face coverings in certain areas and inside shared public spaces and did include potential penalties.

Though individual council members seemed largely in agreement that an ordinance would be more effective and likely ultimately necessary to ensure effective compliance, disagreements about the necessity and appropriate severity of

enforcement and a lack of clarity regarding which areas of Bainbridge Island would be affected bogged down discussion, finally leading to them passing the resolution in a 4-3 vote and the formation of an ad hoc committee tasked with drafting a more detailed ordinance for later consideration.

The committee consists of Councilman Michael Pollock and Councilwomen Hytopoulos and Christy Carr.

The resolution states, “Every individual is strongly encouraged to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when they cannot maintain social distancing of approximately 6 feet from another individual who does not share their household.”

It specifically applies only to “properties that adjoin Winslow Way, from the Washington State Ferry Terminal to Grow Avenue.”

The resolution also contains language specifying the need to conserve medical-grade masks for healthcare workers, encouraging people to wear “fabric coverings, such as cloth face masks, scarves and bandanna coverings,” and to wear them properly, as detailed in current government instruction.

Several exceptions were specified, meaning the resolution does not apply to children age 2 or younger, any child 12 or younger unless a parent or guardian supervises them, anybody with a physical disability which prevents them from easily wearing or removing a mask, anyone who is deaf and uses mouth movements to communicate.

Also, anyone advised by a medical professional not to wear a mask for health-related reasons are likewise exempt.

The areas to which the directive, which became effectively immediately, applies include grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail establishments, restaurants and other carry-out or quick-serve operations, sidewalks, trails, streets, parks and parking lots.

Enforcement and punishment were the areas that proved most problematic in Tuesday’s talk, with some on the council saying any order without penalties would be taken less seriously and others insisting it was an inappropriate duty to assign the police department.

“I think enforcement is highly problematic,” said Councilman Joe Deets.

Given the currently ongoing wider discussion about the desired role of police in society, spurred by coast-to-coast protests and demonstrations in the wake of the recent murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, Councilwoman Rasham Nassar said it was perhaps not the time to be requiring additional, possibly contentious, public interaction with law enforcement officials.

“I hesitate to support a mandate that comes with any sort of enforcement,” she said.

Some on the council opined store owners already have the ability to trespass from their establishment people behaving destructively or improperly attired (no shirt, shoes, etc.) and questioned why further legislation was necessary.

Mayor Leslie Schneider began the discussion saying she’d received a lot of emails about the issue already, acknowledging it was, “a big issue that has many points on both sides.”

“I’m not willing to support an ordinance that has its own teeth [but] I’m willing to support an ordinance that gives the shopkeepers support,” she said.

Hytopoulos said on Wednesday she was dissatisfied with the lack of progress made at the meeting.

“We passed a resolution that simply says we’d like people to follow the governor’s current orders,” she explained. “So we basically still have pending the question of will we or won’t we pass a mask mandate?”

The main takeaway for residents, Hytopoulos stressed, is that the council is not waiting to gauge compliance to the resolution before moving on to consider an ordinance.

“It’s rather that we’ve put this resolution in place for now while we’re going to continue to work on the mandate ordinance,” she said.

“What I would hate for the community to think is that we’re kind of patting ourselves on the back that we passed this resolution and there we go.”

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