City attorney clarifies when McAlester's mask mandate begins

Staff file photoMayor John Browne and McAlester City Councilors passed an ordinance requiring protective face coverings be worn in public — an ordinance City Attorney Joe Ervin says goes into effect Aug. 23.

A determination has been made regarding when an ordinance takes effect requiring the wearing of protective facial coverings in public settings inside McAlester city limits.

"It goes into effect on August 23," said McAlester City Attorney Joe Ervin.

McAlester city councilors passed the measure mandating the wearing of masks or other protective face gear in public settings during a July 23 special meeting by a split 4-to-3 vote. Despite strong opposition from most of those attending the event, proponents maintained wearing the facial coverings will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A companion measure to have the mandate declared an emergency so it would take effect immediately failed to gain the five vote majority required for an emergency declaration.

That meant the mandate would automatically take effect within 30 days — but afterwards even some city officials weren't sure when the 30-day countdown to the mask mandate should begin.

Was it immediately after the council passed the requirement last Thursday night?

Should it start on the next full business day, which would have been July 24? 

Are weekends included in the count, or business days only?

Or should the countdown begin after the mayor signs the ordinance which last week's council vote authorized him to sign? 

Mayor John Browne said earlier this week he hadn't yet signed the ordinance because he was awaiting notification from City Clerk Cora Middleton that the necessary documents had been prepared and were ready for his signature.

Contacted by the News-Capital, Ervin said the countdown should begin on the first full day following the date city councilors passed the measure, regardless of whether the mayor has signed the ordinance.

"It passed on Thursday," Ervin noted, referring to the day of the July 23 special meeting. "Friday is day-one," he said, meaning the 30-day countdown began July 24, the first full day after city councilors passed the measure.

Then, count 30 days forward on the calendar from July 24, including Saturdays and Sundays. Thirty days forward from July 24 is Aug. 22 — but the ordinance does not go into effect until the day following the 30th day, said Ervin.

That day is Aug. 23 — which is a Sunday. Can a city ordinance begin on a weekend, or does the time for the ordinance to take effect extend to the next business day? Ervin said it doesn't matter what day of the week it is.

So the mask-wearing ordinance will take effect shortly after the midnight that falls on Saturday night, Aug. 22?

"One minute — or one second after midnight on Aug. 22 to get technical," Ervin said.

That doesn't mean McAlester police will start patrolling and looking for violators in the early-morning darkness of Aug. 23.

As passed by the city council at the July 23 meeting, the provision carries a fine of up to $100 for those who violate the city's ordinance requiring the wearing of protective facial coverings in areas where social distancing isn't being practiced or isn't possible.

Browne says he plans to have the matter of the $100 fine placed on the council's Aug. 11 meeting agenda, so he can attempt to remove it before the mask-wearing mandate takes effect.

The mayor said he would be OK with reducing the fine to "zero" and enforcing the mandate though other means — such as charging someone with trespassing who refuses to wear a mask or other facial covering inside a business and then refuses to leave when told to do so.

Browne told the News-Capital prior to the July 23 special meeting he intended to strike the $100 fine from the measure before it came up for a vote. During the meeting, Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard asked Browne about his earlier statement to strike the $100 fine. Browne said he would if the matter went much further.

However, city councilors passed the measure by the split vote before the mayor removed the $100 fine from the ordinance. Asked later why he didn't, Browne said he was thinking about too many other things.

Browne had attempted to bring the measure up again after it passed during the 23 meeting , but Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith — who had made the motion to take a vote on the mask-mandate measure and then voted against it — refused to allow the mayor to bring his motion up again.

Smith said later he didn't want to do anything to make the ordinance more palatable. He wants to get rid of the whole thing.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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