McMinnville officials do not have the authority to require non-city employees to wear masks when entering city government buildings, according to a legal opinion.
“Last year, we were operating under an order from the governor,” said city attorney Tim Pirtle. “The restrictions, the masks, the Zoom meetings – things that we implemented to stem the pandemic were ordered by the governor and/ or the county executive. There is no question that states, and counties as political subdivisions of states, are so authorized. There is no authority that I’m aware of – other than an attorney general opinion that you, mayor, shared with me earlier in the evening – that suggests that local municipal corporations have authority to mandate anything.”
That opinion was given Tuesday night when the McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen met to continue an Aug. 10 discussion on when to implement a mask mandate within city-owned buildings.
“You’re saying whether we can require outside visitors coming in, non-employees, to wear masks is up in the air,” said Vice Mayor Everett Brock.
Pirtle replied, “I’m saying that there is no legal basis, there’s no legal authority, and there has been no court opinion that grants that authority to municipal corporations. You are on a different footing than the county, which is a political subdivision of the state.”
“So, this discussion we are talking about has to be employees only?” asked Brock.
Prompting the mask-wearing discussion was a recommendation by Mayor Ryle Chastain two weeks ago that the city re-implement its 2020 pandemic protocol, a tier system that recommends when masks should be required inside government buildings and when masks are only a recommendation.
After the legal opinion was given, Chastain suggested the city implement its protocol in regard to city government employees only.
“In regards to non-employees, we simply recommend the wearing of masks and continue to discuss as the situation unfolds,” said Chastain. “As regards to our employees, it will be my recommendation that they are required to wear facemasks once we hit that 26 infections per 100,000 just like we did last year, which we are not currently at. Thoughts?”
Vice Mayor Everett Brock stated, “I don’t have a problem with it.”
An audience member asked why city employees could not be allowed to make that decision for themselves.
Chastain reiterated previous statements regarding the importance of protecting city government employees and continuing to provide services, such as police and fire, to citizens.
“This is about protecting city workers,” he said. “At the end of the day, I have to ask these questions: What if an outbreak occurred in the police department and we had all police officers sick and at home quarantined? What if the same thing happened in the fire department? Who will put out fires for us? If something happened in our finance office, we would have nobody to do taxes, to run payroll, to pay the bills and do the accounts receivable. That’s where I’m coming from as city mayor.”
Alderman Sally Brock agreed, “I think it’s the right thing to do. We are going to protect our employees.”