Bowling Green Council President Mark Hollenbaugh on Monday said he hopes council will introduce — and pass — a mask-mandating ordinance at its next meeting.
However, others on council urged swifter action, calling for a special meeting next week.
“This brings me no joy,” Hollenbaugh said near the close of Monday’s council meeting. “But on May 18, when businesses were opening up again, city council passed a resolution, and there were a number of things in that resolution. One was our support for those businesses as they opened up, conditional to it being in a safe manner. There were several things suggested, including CDC guidelines that people wear masks.
“As things have taken a turn for the worse, and due to a lack of people voluntarily on their own wearing masks in public places, that’s what prompted my feelings on this.”
If council approves a mask ordinance, Bowling Green would join Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and other Ohio municipalities that have passed similar ordinances.
Speaking prior to Monday’s meeting, Hollenbaugh said council would be working on the ordinance over the next week and then it would be put into legal form by City Attorney Mike Marsh.
“I’m going to ask council members to send me suggestions,” Hollenbaugh said, adding that he’ll compile them and send them out and allow council members to make independent remarks.
That will be forwarded on to Marsh. After the ordinance is written, Hollenbaugh said it will be sent to council members for suggestions, with the hope it will be in a finished form by July 20.
“I hope it’s done prior to the meeting on the 20th … so we can release what it looks like before the Monday of the meeting,” he said.
At that meeting, Hollenbaugh said he hopes it will be discussed, given three readings and passed with an emergency clause, meaning it would go into effect immediately.
Hollenbaugh said he assumed the ordinance would make masks mandatory within businesses and, if there is a component mandating masks in certain outdoor situations, it might include organized outdoor events where people can’t be socially distanced.
“But as far as walking around town, walking your dog, going jogging, those sorts of activities, no,” masks would not be required, Hollenbaugh said.
He said, as an example, the farmers market “would probably be something that would fall under it. If we were to have some sort of organized protest (at) Wooster Green, that might fall under it. That’s just speculation because we haven’t written it. And that’s just my opinion.”
He said he wished Gov. Mike DeWine had taken action.
“We were hoping the governor would issue a statewide order (about masks) because that would be uniform and more easy to enforce,” Hollenbaugh said. “It became apparent that either 1) that wasn’t going to happen or 2) we couldn’t wait any longer so we needed to get the ball rolling.”
Hollenbaugh said that over the last three days, he’s received approximately 100 emails, phone calls and text messages about the potential ordinance and “as far as I know I’ve answered every one.”
He said that early on the communications he received were negative “but I would say over the last couple of days it’s been trending more positive.”
Both residents who spoke about a mask ordinance at Monday’s meeting supported such a move.
“We’ve seen this in many other cities, we’ve seen this in many other towns,” said Wendy Manning. “I think it’s important that we strive to be a healthy community. … We don’t know what the long-term repercussions of this kind of health crisis are and we should strive to to better.”
Manning said it was council’s duty to act.
“I think its your responsibility as elected officials to support the health of all of us,” she said, and listen to not merely the most vocal, but the most vulnerable as well. “Cases in Ohio are increasing, cases in our county are increasing, so this is something of vital importance.”
Rob Piasecki also urged council to act.
“(I don’t) understand the delay in bringing this forward. This is an international pandemic, and all we have to do is wear masks to save lives,” he said. “Let’s care about Bowling Green residents.
“You guys can do this, please do this.”
Near the end of Monday’s meeting, council members Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino advocated for swifter action.
“We’re talking about people getting what could be a fatal illness,” Rowland said. “I am also very sorry that we have to do this, but I would like to advocate that we have a special meeting next Monday and pass it at that time.”
“Every day counts and July 20 seems, in the U.S., about a quarter-million more cases of COVID down the road,” Zanfardino said. “Whether we did this tomorrow or six months from now, there’s going to be two camps on this issue. I think time is more important than expecting concurrence. I know there’s nothing drafted at this point, but I would be one member would would like to have a special meeting any day next week.”
Councilman Bill Herald spoke about the importance of balance, noting he’s heard essentially from two camps of people on the issue.
“One is don’t trample my individual rights, and the other one is protect the community. That’s another example of balancing,” he said.
Herald said that even the July 20 date is swift for council.
“And I think that this council can fashion something that gets us most of the way there by the 20th, but anything quicker and I think we may be moving too quickly,” he said.
Hollenbaugh said the reason for the July 20 date was based knowing how council generally functions and wanting to make sure it ended up with a document that was effective for Bowling Green.
“And to also afford people … the opportunity to get in touch with their elected officials. I understand the sense of urgency, but I don’t want to commit to a faster timetable at this moment and then not be able to achieve that. I would just say let’s go forward into this week and see where we are on Friday, and if things get worse, and if we have a document that is a good document and an enforceable document, then we can have a discussion about approving it,” he said.
Hollenbaugh encouraged public input on the issue, and asked residents to contact their council members. He said there will be lobby visitation at the July 20 meeting for people to make a public comment, and they may also send an email to Clerk of Council Kay Scherreik before 4 p.m. on July 20, with “Lobby Visitation” in the subject line. Hollenbaugh also asked that their name and address be included.
Monday’s meeting was the first council meeting to be open to public attendance since March.