I was gratified to see the Town Board vote at last Thursday’s meeting to require the wearing of face masks on all commercial sidewalks. Board members and I had been receiving concerns about people not wearing masks on those tight and crowded downtown sidewalks. The Governor’s mask order was ambiguous about whether masks could be required on outdoor sidewalks.
During the public comment period OEI President, Richard Delaney, made a very convincing case that the town needed to take a clear and decisive position on wearing masks on sidewalks. Richard stressed it was vital to public health and that it would send a message that Highlands was committed to the safety of our visitors and to the wellbeing of the business community and our residents.
The board voted unanimously to require masks or face coverings on sidewalks in our commercial zones. Stopping the spread of COVID 19 begins at the local level.
When the governor issued the mask requirement, I interpreted the order to apply to small sidewalks like the ones we have downtown. I was advised that the town could not enforce such a requirement and signs requiring it were an incorrect interpretation of the governor’s order.
The language was changed on the signs. I hoped people would voluntarily wear masks on the sidewalks. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, and more people began to walk on these sidewalks without masks.
The board’s vote to require masks on the commercial sidewalks is a local ordinance during this state of emergency that is not ambiguous and is enforceable, although we all want people to voluntarily comply. Our police have increased foot patrols in the business area and model the behavior of wearing masks.
I won’t be surprised to get letters and emails calling me a dictator for ordering such an onerous requirement.
My response is that I didn’t unilaterally do it, the entire board of elected officials voted to do it in the interest of public health and safety. I stand by the board in this decision. As I have said before, with individual freedom comes a responsibility to the public not to jeopardize other citizen’s freedom. This ordinance is a responsible action in this emergency situation.
The Town Board also reviewed the situation with the August 1 requirement for residential customers to have a bear resistant toter for garbage collection. That requirement was posted by the board a year ago after several public meetings, feedback from state wildlife experts, and reviewing several options.
Two factors drove the decision. First, there was a growing need to stop bears from trash can marauding. Second, our old system of expecting sanitation workers to lift hundreds of cans each day was an obsolete practice that safety experts had recommended changing. The bar on toters eliminates this health and safety problem.
I want to thank the nearly 70% of our residents who have already made this conversion. The town manager told the board there is a backlog of orders for toters at the local hardware store. The board decided to keep the August 1 deadline for the toters, but will delay enforcement of the requirement until the backlog of orders is gone.
That plan means folks still have some time to convert to bear resistant toters. In the meantime, the town will continue to advertise about the requirement in the newspaper. I will keep writing and talking about it.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor