Stow City Council rejects local mask mandate

Sponsor of proposal casts only 'yes' vote

APRIL HELMS and LAURA FREEMAN Reporters
At-large Council member Christina Shaw proposed legislation that would've enacted a mandate to wear masks, but it failed 1 to 6 on Thursday night.

STOW – Although Gov. Mike DeWine has made mask wearing mandatory in the state, a council member proposed legislation to give the city authority to enforce its own mask mandate, but she was the only one who voted in favor of the ordinance.

Councilwoman Christina Shaw introduced a bill Thursday night for mandated mask wearing in all public spaces in Stow, including retail businesses, restaurants, bars, health care facilities, hotels, ride-sharing services and other businesses.

“A lot of residents reached out to me,” Shaw said. “Our intent, first and foremost, is to educate our residents about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing in preventing community spread of coronavirus and, secondarily, to promote compliance.” 

Gov. DeWine on Wednesday announced that a statewide mask requirement would take effect at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 23. Even though the state mandate went into effect, Shaw said she decided to move ahead with the city legislation because the city is in a state of emergency and because it would impose local fines. In addition, if DeWine decides to lift the statewide requirement, Shaw said she would like to have the city retain control of a masking requirement.

The ordinance failed with Shaw voting for it and the other six council members voting against it.

Council member Cyle Feldman said he was not comfortable telling others what to do but said he wore his mask every day.

Council member Steve Hailer said he follows the rules of businesses if they require a mask.

“I don’t think passing this legislation is going to make people do something,” Hailer said. “We should strongly encourage and lead by example. I know it’s safe for me to wear a mask. I’m protecting someone else. I think it’s a good practice.”

Council member Dennis Altieri said the governor has doctors to advise him but the city does not. He agreed with Hailer that the police had enough to do and shouldn’t have to enforce wearing a mask.

Council Presidents Sindi Harrison said the state has issued a mandate to wear a mask.

“You can go into a business or not,” Harrison said. “This legislation is not going to change that.”

Council member Jeremy McIntire agreed with Harrison and said if a store requires a mask, he wears one.

“I’m a free market kind of guy,” McIntire said. “I can’t legislate the personal choice of the citizens of Stow.”

Comments read at the meeting were split between support and opposition to the mask mandate legislation, and one of the people who spoke in favor was Donna Skoda, health commissioner of Summit County Public Health.

If it had been approved, the legislation would’ve provided health care and religious exemptions, and excluded schools, both public and private, which Shaw said would be governed by the local school board and Ohio Department of Education. The bill would’ve established the same guidelines as the state’s order for Summit County, with the exception of its duration.

If it had passed, the law would’ve included enforcement provisions, with warnings and an opportunity to comply with the ordinance, followed by a civil fine of $50 for individuals and $250 for businesses. The Summit County Combined General Health District would’ve been authorized to enforce the law.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com