On the day Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul issued a mask mandate in response to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, some members of the Sandy Springs City Council said they would like to see the directive strengthened.
Paul’s mandate came three days after Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Aug. 15 to allow the state’s individual municipalities to adopt their own mask mandates due to the pandemic after not allowing them previously. But Sandy Springs’ decree means everyone must wear a mask when in public places, including public buildings and spaces.
“I think everyone who serves in these positions has a sense of wanting to do something to make this place a more enjoyable place to live,” District 6 Councilman Andy Bauman said. “This pandemic has made us feel helpless at times. We were desperately requesting, 9-1, that we do a mandate. This executive order is still pretty limited, and it mainly refers to public property but not private property. …
“I think these mask mandates have been effective. Where does that leave us? I don’t know. The Georgia Municipal Association has circulated a model ordinance and resolution and we’d already done a resolution, that cities can adopt. I would like to suggest and throw it out there that we consider adopting the Georgia Municipal Association model ordinance.”
Bauman spoke at the council’s Aug. 18 meeting, when the council decided, without a vote required, to host a special called meeting Aug. 20 at 4 p.m. to vote on strengthening the mask mandate by adopting one endorsed by the association and possibly other governmental organizations.
“It’s been really nice to see lately stores not allowing entry without a mask,” District 4 Councilwoman Jody Reichel said. “I think there was some confusion. I would agree that we have a special called meeting and make it a mandate and not just a statement.”
Kemp’s executive order allows city and county governments that have met a threshold requirement of 100 or more confirmed cases of COIVD-19 per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days to implement mask regulations. According to a news release, Fulton County meets that case threshold, seeing a 1,639-case increase over the past week.
But Paul and other city leaders warned the council shouldn’t take this mission too far or it could be illegal.
“We may not be able to” take it a step further, Paul said of beefing up the mandate. “My statement was drafted by the legal department, and they’ve gone as far to the line as we can do. The most we can do is say masks are not required in private businesses.”
City Attorney Dan Lee added, “To add to the councilman’s question, I think it’s a good one. One intricate part of the governor’s order and the model order of the (association) and the only difference has to do with the threshold. If the county in which the city sits meets the formula of a hotspot, and we have, then this measure is allowed. … We can add that, obviously.”
Paul said Kemp’s executive order allows cities that enact a mask mandate to charge $50 fines for individuals not wearing masks, but included only warnings and omitted fines from his directive because he doesn’t want the police department to be caught in the middle.
“The way we’re going to approach it is the same way we would with the ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ signs,” Police Chief Ken DeSimone said. “We don’t take 911 calls if someone goes into a McDonald’s with no shirt on. That’s up to a business, and if that person becomes unruly, they can call us.”
In previous weeks, especially since the recent increase in Fulton County COVID-19 cases, dozens of residents have requested a mask mandate. Paul said the passion residents have over wearing or not wearing masks is high.
“The emotion is very intense,” he said. “All you have to do is check social media over the past 72 hours and you’ll see a raging debate. … (Businesses) can opt in or opt out. If a business requires masks, and if someone objects to that. there may be some confrontations and fights and yelling matches about it. That escalates it from an argument to disorderly conduct or another crime.
“But as far as writing tickets for masks, no jurisdiction I’ve talked to is writing citations for not wearing masks. Given the governor’s new order, that may change. But I think for now we need to try this approach. If we need to change it, we meet every two weeks and can change it at the next meeting.”
Bauman said the council’s vote to strengthen the mandate is the right move.
“Many residents have asked us to act. Some have asked us not to act,” he said. “… We’ve been screwing around with this for a long time. Now we have a chance to do something because the governor’s order allows us to.”
Paul agreed, adding, “I think by taking this step, council will give cover to businesses that want to do the right thing but maybe need a little bit of encouragement or cover with their customers.”