Macon-Bibb Commissioners approve mask mandate, relocation of Confederate statues
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Macon-Bibb Commissioners Tuesday approved a local face covering mandate and the relocation of two downtown Confederate statues.
The “emergency ordinance” regarding face coverings says the Macon-Bibb County Commission “hereby declares that an emergency exists in Macon-Bibb County with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic” and that “all residents and visitors to Macon-Bibb County are hereby ORDERED to wear a face covering over both the nose and mouth at all times while as practicable while outside their homes or places of residence.”
Commissioners voted 7-2 to pass the ordinance. Commissioner Valerie Wynn abstained from voting, which, under the rules, counted as a yes vote. Commissioners Joe Allen and Scotty Shepherd voted against it.
Commissioner Mallory Jones offered a “friendly amendment” to keep face coverings from being required outdoors, to which the sponsor, Commissioner Elaine Lucas, responded, “I don’t accept that.”
A face covering is defined in the ordinance as “a device that is designed to be worn and is actually being worn over the nose and mouth of a person to impede the spread of saliva or other fluids during speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other act of expiration, expectoration, or expulsion from the mouth or nose, whether intentional, or involuntary.” Face coverings shall be deemed sufficient “if made from paper, fabric, cloth, scarves, bandanas, plastic, or other materials in such as way as to be capable of effectively impeding the spread of saliva and other fluids as described herein.”
The ordinance says it shall be considered “impracticable” for any person to wear a face covering:
1. If that person is under the age of 10 years;
2. In a personal vehicle or other enclosed space occupied only by persons who live in the same household or place of residence as such person;
3. When exercising outdoors;
4. When eating, drinking, or smoking;
5. When wearing a face covering materially causes or aggravates a health condition; or
6. When wearing a face covering would prevent the receipt of personal services, such as medical, dental, or care services.
The ordinance adds that anyone who fails to comply shall not be imprisoned but instead punished by a civil fine of no more than $25 on the first offense, no more than $50 on the second offense and no more than $100 on the third and subsequent offenses.
The 8-page ordinance also says nothing in it “shall be interpreted as limiting or discouraging the enforcement of Executive Order 07.15.20.01, or any subsequent executive order, according to its term.”
That executive order, issued by Governor Brian Kemp, extended the state’s gatherings ban of more than 50 people, renewed business restrictions, protected the medically fragile and strongly encouraged Georgians to wear masks in public. It also said that “enforcement of any county or municipal ordinance that is more or less restrictive than this Order is hereby suspended.”
Governor Kemp recently sued the city of Atlanta and its council members over that city’s mask mandate.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Commissioners Virgil Watkins Jr. and Valerie Wynn both asked acting Macon-Bibb County attorney Duke Groover what that lawsuit actually means.
“It means, if he wins, that action by the city of Atlanta is declared illegal, cannot be enforced and is not effective,” Groover responded. “If the court declares what the governor wants, that would mean that no city or county—at least if it goes to the Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals rules in favor of the governor—that no city or county would be able to vary from, be inconsistent with, or be different from his executive orders. But that’s the question that’s being litigated right now.”
“Other than that, is there any other consequence?” Wynn asked.
“Well the consequence—if the governor wins—would be he would establish that he has the right to determine what safety measures to use to combat the pandemic,” Groover said. “If the governor loses, in that city of Atlanta case at least, then the city of Atlanta and other jurisdictions would have more authority than he thinks they should have to mandate measures locally—including imposing fines. So in our case, for example, if this passes, people not wearing a mask and violating this ordinance would be subject if they were cited to a fine.”
“So if the governor wins, then would those fines be enforceable?” Wynn asked.
“No,” Groover responded.
Watkins then asked Groover what would happen if Governor Kemp “wakes up in the morning and decides to sue Macon-Bibb County because we passed a similar law to Atlanta.”
“If he sued us, I would defend it,” Groover told Watkins. “And that’s my job, and that’s what would happen. But I’m not the judge, and there would be a judge that would decide who’s right and who’s wrong.”
Commissioners approve relocation of Confederate statues
Commissioners also voted to pass a resolution that authorizes Mayor Robert Reichert to proceed with the 2015 Macon Action Plan, which, among other things, calls for the creation of a plaza at the intersection of Cotton Avenue and Second Street.
The resolution, which passed in a 5-4 vote (Commissioners Joe Allen, Mallory Jones, Scotty Shepherd and Wynn voted against), calls for a Confederate monument at that intersection, along with the Women of the South monument at the intersection of Poplar and First Streets, to be moved to Whittle Park at Rose Hill Cemetery “upon identifying county funds” or otherwise raising funds.
If additional time is needed to prepare a permanent site at Whittle Park, the resolution says, the statues “shall instead be moved first into a temporary storage space for preservation and protection.”
The resolution says the monuments are being moved in part to “protect against the risk of injury or death to private citizens as a result of or in the course of acts of vandalism or destruction towards them.” It also mentions that the Macon Urban Framework schematic design from August 2017 called for the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of Poplar Street and First Street, which would include and require a reconfiguration of the Women of the South monument.
The resolution added that “with the relocation of the Cotton Avenue monument to Whittle Park, the Commission finds that it would be appropriate to also place the Women of the South monument in Whittle Park so as to give prominence and mutual context to both monuments and allow for the completion of the Macon Urban Framework roundabout project.”
The resolution also called to move forward with improvements at Rosa Parks Square, which will include, among other things, a water wall, a stage area and the installation of a statue of Rosa Parks.
The estimated cost to relocate the statues and complete the Cotton Avenue Plaza, Poplar Street/First Street roundabout and Rosa Parks Square projects would be about $5 million.