OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) – The City Council of Oklahoma City met for five and a half hours Tuesday to discuss City business. The main order of business for Tuesday’s meeting was an effort to end a city-wide mask mandate a month early.
The Council also bid farewell to two long-time Councillors, James Greiner of Ward 1 and Larry McAtee of Ward 3. The Council also approved a new mural project and reallocation of CARES Act money.
Tuesday was the last City Council meeting for James Greiner of Ward 1 and Larry McAtee of Ward 3.
Greiner has served on the Council since 2013. A resolution to recognize his service passed unanimously, placing Greiner in the awkward position of being the first to vote on the resolution.
“This is the weirdest vote I’ve ever cast,” said Greiner.
After the vote, members of the Council from around the horseshoe told Greiner how much they’ve appreciated working with him over the last several years, complementing his dedication to his family.
The Council then recognized Larry McAtee, who has served on the City Council for a whopping 20 years.
Many of the Councilors and the Mayor thanked McAtee for offering guidance and sincere conversation over the years. Ward 8’s Mark Stonecipher referenced McAtee’s wife Joann and said that it felt like the Council was lucky to get two Councilors.
Last week, Ward 8’s Stonecipher and Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone released a statement to the press explaining that they were going to propose an early end to the ongoing City-wide mask mandate.
The last vote the Council held on the topic extended the mandate through the end of April.
While Stone has not previously supported a mandate, he has voted each time in favor of the emergency clause to put the mandate into effect immediately. In a press release, Stone pointed to that as a sign of his cooperation.
On Tuesday, Stone and Stonecipher were joined as co-signatories for rescinding the mask ordinance by Greiner and McAtee.
Stonecipher pointed out that they had been in conversations with each other and with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD). Stonecipher invited spokespeople from OCCHD to talk to the Council.
Since the announcement of the attempt to rescind the mandate, Oklahoma County has experienced a spike in cases. Simultaneously, Stonecipher said that the Supreme Court has warned municipalities to limit their efforts to limit individual rights by requiring masks.
Phil Maytubby, Director of Public Health Protection at OCCHD, explained that case rates are low, but that the case rate numbers have kept up with testing rates. In other words, testing rates are low, so we don’t actually know what our case rate might be.
Maytubby explained that with case spikes in 30 other states, who don’t know what to expect. “There are no castle walls [around Oklahoma],” Maytubby said.
Maytubby also talked about our sewage surveillance program. There are 18 sampling sites in Oklahoma City, including the four City sewage treatment plants. Testing sewage at multiple sites serves as an “early warning system,” especially for new variants of the deadly COVID-19 disease.
Stonecipher interjected during the presentation by OCCHD representatives to say that he has been in good communication with them and that he believes the collaboration has been fruitful.
He then moved to defer the item for two weeks, so that OCCHD could return with more scientific findings.
Four residents of Oklahoma City signed up to speak against the relaxation of the mask mandate.
The first speaker started with the phrase, “We told you so.”
She explained that since the beginning of the pandemic, concerned residents have pushed the council to tighten health restrictions in the City. However, all that came of it, she said, was a mask mandate. As somebody who is vulnerable to the deadly illness, she asked if the Council Members felt responsible for the deaths in our community.
Councilors also heard from three other concerned residents who were well-armed with statistics.
One caller said, “If you’re concerned about the burden of wearing a mask, just wait until you hear about society’s requirement that you wear pants in public.”
Councilman Stonecipher moved to defer the item for two weeks so that the public health professionals could return with more science related to the ordinance.
Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper asked some questions of the OCCHD representatives at the meeting. He specifically asked how long it would take to be fully vaccinated if a person got their first dose on Monday, the day before the meeting.
It was explained that the second dose could take well over two weeks to receive. Then, there would be at least ten days to be fully vaccinated, depending on which vaccine somebody received.
Cooper pointed out that that timeline would mean it would be the end of April before somebody might get their second dose, plus ten days. That would mean the aimed-at “Herd Immunity” wouldn’t be reached until, at the soonest, the middle of June.
Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice addressed the issue of health equity. She said that with cases up by over 800 since March 26, we need more vaccines and protections before relaxing the mandate.
Nice and Cooper both asked for an up or down vote on the issue. They were joined by Ward 6 Councilmember JoBeth Hamon, who said she found the effort to end the mandate early frustrating.
Hamon said that equity is key to the conversation, as most frontline workers are people who work for a living and have a hard time getting time off work. Added to that, they may rely on public transportation which only serves some vaccine sites. Many people don’t have the time to sit online hitting refresh for the vaccine portal.
Cooper went on to address the media and his constituents in Ward 2 by saying that the last time this issue was before the council, they were told that extending the mandate further was the best choice.
Cooper said he was frustrated that by voting against the deferral, people might be confused about the purpose of the vote.
He, Nice, and Hamon wanted to vote for or against the proposal to end the mandate.
However, they did not get that opportunity. When asked by Cooper to withdraw the deferral motion, Stonecipher steadfastly refused.
The measure was deferred 5-4, with McAtee — typically against masks — joining the young Council members.
The Council will take up the item, yet again, on April 13.
Since its opening at S.W. 14th and Harvey, the restroom facilities and skate park have had problems with graffiti. Studies show that public art murals discourage “rogue” graffiti.
In service of that, the Council voted on Tuesday to allow several local artists under the direction of Kris Kanaly to create murals around the park facilities.
The murals will be completed by artists who are also avid skaters. Kanaly, Tony Thunder, Carlos Barboza, and Jose Scott will create a series of murals around the park. The colorful mural will include a portrait of Manuel Perez, himself.
Assistant City Manager Kenny Tsoodle gave a presentation to the Council on Tuesday to ask for a re-allocation of some CARES Act funds.
Readers may remember that the City received some $114 million dollars in federal funds as part of the CARES Act.
On Tuesday Tsoodle recommended the sixth amendment of the use of those funds.
Since testing and contact tracing have diminished in scope, and perhaps in need, Tsoodle and staff recommended using $1,047,000 to be diverted to the sewage testing program administered by a group of research institutions including OCCHD, University of Oklahoma Health, and Oklahoma University Health Science Center.
Future testing will be conducted by OU Health, with assistance from the other organizations. The change will also extend the contract through the end of the year.
Near the end of the meeting, City Manager Craig Freeman introduced a resolution to offer a one-time stipend to all full and part-time employees of Oklahoma City in recognition of their “extraordinary” work over the Fiscal Year 2020-2021.
The amount was not discussed, but the stipend was approved unanimously.
The stipend will not be applied to elected officials, whose income is dictated by City Charter. To pay a stipend, a city-wide vote would be required.
The City Council will meet again at 8:30 a.m. on April 13.
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Last Updated March 30, 2021, 5:59 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor