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Mask Mandate, Resolution Encouraging Mask Wearing Fail At Broken Arrow City Council

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The Broken Arrow City Council had a mask mandate on its agenda for the first time Tuesday night, but it didn’t even come up for a vote.

Over the course of more than four hours on the topic of masks, councilors first heard an onslaught of misinformation from outspoken anti-mask Dr. James Meehan, who a Connecticut judge ruled last fall was not qualified to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit against school mask-wearing rules. They also heard from medical informatics expert Dr. David Kendrick, who showed them places in the state with mask mandates have new case rates 50% and death rates 67% lower than those without.

And a significant number of people came to the council meeting to ask for a mask mandate or resolution, but they were outnumbered by those in opposition, who were noticeably influenced by misinformation about the coronavirus, masks and the U.S. Constitution.

The proposed mask requirement was for people age 10 and up in public places, including schools. It was modeled after Tulsa and Jenks’ ordinances and was prepared at the request of Councilor Johnnie Parks, the only council member to show an interest in action related to masks. But after public comment ended, Parks decided not to call for a vote, saying it would be too difficult to implement a mask ordinance in Broken Arrow.

"Because it should’ve been put in six months ago, eight months ago. I’m not sure it would really help that much being put in today, but I’m not so convinced a resolution might not help," Parks said.

Data prepared for the city showed its infection and death rates are outpacing Tulsa’s.

In the end, the council deadlocked 2–2 on a resolution also on the agenda that simply encouraged residents to wear masks, meaning it failed. Vice Mayor Scott Eudey joined Parks in voting for the resolution. Eudey voted against a similar one in late November. He noted since then, Broken Arrow COVID deaths had jumped from 56 to 104.

"Now, does that mean that we restrict everyone’s rights because of that? No, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to think about the fact that 104 of our citizens passed away," Eudey said.

Mayor Craig Thurmond and Councilor Debra Wimpee again voted against the resolution.

"I wear masks because I think it’s the right thing to do, but I also don’t believe that our resolution is going to get one more person to wear a mask," Thurmond said.

"I don’t know how passing a resolution that says we will strongly encourage you to wear your mask is any different than what we’re already doing, and I just don’t see the point in it," Wimpee said.

The resolution likely would have failed 3–2 if Councilor Christi Gillespie had been present to vote. She was at home because she developed symptoms after a COVID exposure and was awaiting test results. City Manager Michael Spurgeon read a letter from Gillespie that railed against mask requirements.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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