The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously voted in a Tuesday regular session meeting to extend the declaration of local emergency for a fifth time and passed an ordinance that requires face masks or covers in commercial buildings.
The requirement does not apply to anyone who is unable to safely wear a face covering due to age, an underlying health condition or is unable to remove the face mask without assistance from others.
Masks are not required in personal vehicles, homes or religious establishments, though mask wearing is “highly recommended during religious activity,” according to the ordinance. Children under ten are also not required to wear masks.
People not wearing masks in the specified spaces will be fined — $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for the third and any subsequent offenses.
The ordinance will go into effect at 8 a.m. the day after Mayor Kelly Girtz signs it and will end on 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 4. A tweet from the ACC government said that the mayor’s signature is expected on July 8. Girtz was not at the Tuesday meeting.
The @accgov Mayor & Commission tonight approved a 5th declaration of a local emergency that included requiring face covers or masks in public places. It is effective at 8 a.m. the day after the Mayor's signature, which is expected on July 8. Ordinance: https://t.co/78Xmk31oCy pic.twitter.com/CeD9eIqJLV— Athens-Clarke County (@accgov) July 8, 2020
District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link mentioned Savannah’s $500 fine for not following their face covering ordinance that went into effect last week. She said that the Athens fines may have to be revisited when UGA students come back into town.
“It appears that that age group is precisely the folks who are getting this virus and spreading it,” Link said. “Our bars are open. There seems to be very little enforcement of the social distancing and capacity measures.”
Gov. Brian Kemp has not implemented a mandatory statewide mask order. Previous executive orders override any local orders that conflicted with state ordinances. Kemp has not intervened in Savannah’s mask order, which was instituted June 30.
District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport said he understood the divisiveness of the mask wearing ordinance but that “your health and well-being is ten times more precious to me than any politics you can ever throw at me.”
“I understand that there are some people out there who are upset by this, but this is not just for you. This is for all of us,” Davenport said.
The commission also unanimously passed a Black Lives Matter resolution drafted by District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton to show the commission’s support for Black Athenians. The resolution also declares Juneteenth a local holiday.
“The history of Black people in Athens needs to be retold,” Thornton said.
District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker proposed an amendment to the resolution that would include language from the national Movement for Black Lives policy platform. The proposed amendment would include language that would support divesting from surveillance policing, mass incarceration and deportation. It would also include support for public housing, education and living wages among other things.
Parker asked that the vote on the resolution be tabled until the next voting meeting so she and Thornton could collaborate. It was voted down 4-3 and the resolution was adapted in its original language.
Thornton was one of the commissioners who voted against tabling the resolution, saying that her resolution was designed for Athens, not for a national platform.
Commissioners also voted against allowing Verizon Wireless to build a new cell tower at 855 Nowhere Road. Verizon filed a federal lawsuit against the county on Jan. 3 in order to build the tower.
“See you in court,” Link said.