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Broken Arrow City Council Still Shows No Appetite For Mask Measure

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Broken Arrow City Council
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Broken Arrow City Councilor Johnnie Parks at a council meeting on Jan. 5.

It was a familiar scene at Tuesday's Broken Arrow City Council meeting: Councilor Johnnie Parks expressed interest in exploring a mask mandate to address rising rates of COVID-19, but the suggestion did not garner enthusiasm from the majority of either his colleagues or public commenters. 

"We've looked at this for several months now and our rates keep increasing. I think that we need to have it on the next city council meeting as a decision item," Parks said of either a mask mandate or recommendation. "With the opportunity, maybe, to do something different as leaders in the community, to see if there's some way we can help this."

Mayor Craig Thurmond remained firm in his long-held opposition to a mandate.

"My opinion is that, as citizens, we're responsible for ourselves. We're responsible for our own actions," Thurmond said. "I do not wear a seatbelt because the law says I have to. I wear it because I feel safer in my vehicle wearing a seatbelt."

Thurmond said he wears masks in certain situations, including at a recent holiday gathering with his elderly mother-in-law.

"I think that as citizens and as people we have that responsibility to take care of ourselves and take care of those that we care about, and I don't think that we need a law to do that," Thurmond said.

Neither Thurmond, Parks, Vice Mayor Scott Eudey, Councilor Debra Wimpee nor Councilor Christi Gillespie wore masks while speaking at the meeting.

Parks did float the idea of looking into a larger venue for at least one future council meeting. He said some constituents have expressed concern that they would put themselves at risk of contracting COVID by attending the council's meetings in their current chambers, which can become crowded and in which not all officials and citizens wear masks. Eudey supported that idea.

"I certainly wouldn't object to that, because I'm hearing the same complaints," Eudey said. "People who don't feel comfortable in a smaller space because of the seating available in this room, where they don't feel comfortable coming in and addressing the council, and I don't want there to be anything that would inhibit anyone from addressing the council."

Gillespie did not shoot down the idea, but did present one potential rationale for not moving to a larger space for greater ease of social distancing.

"We also have to look at the precedent that sets going forward," Gillespie said. "At what point do we say, I mean -- and yes, I want every single person to be able to be heard and hopefully, I mean, they can be, and I know that this is an issue that a lot of people, obviously, want to be heard -- but, like, when do we stop that?"

"Because there might be -- it might, I mean, it could be for anything that we decide. I mean, maybe it wouldn't be COVID. Something else, later," Gillespie said. "So we have to, I just want to kind of make sure --"

Eudey interjected to say moving meeting locations is not without precedent in Broken Arrow; Gillespie suggested possibly using CARES Act funds to pay for a larger space.

Per their agenda, the council took no immediate action beyond discussion. They have previously rejected both a mask mandate and a resolution that would have strongly encouraged citizens to wear masks to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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