Tuesday, the City Council of Oklahoma City held their first in-person meeting since March to debate extending the City’s mask mandate, among other business.
The Council also heard a report from a representative of OG&E about that company’s response to the recent ice storm that left so many Oklahoma City residents without electricity for days or even weeks.
The future of the City’s CARES Act funds was also discussed at some length, and a local shelter for transition-aged youth experiencing homelessness has a green light to open in Ward 2.
How the sausage gets madeGovernment according to columnist Marty Peercy
Mask Mandate differences
For the first time since April, the City Council gathered in the Council Chambers to handle their duties. The newly remodeled chambers featured new technology for the Council and the audience, as well as peculiar plexiglass barriers meant to protect the councilors from their peers.
All councilors wore masks for the meeting, which became a topic of discussion during debate over extending the mask mandate.
To begin the discussion, Dr. Patrick McGough of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department reviewed the recent rise in cases of COVID-19 in the state with a particular focus on the statistics for Oklahoma County.
McGough said that we are experiencing an average of 700 cases per day in Oklahoma County. The data the Doctor showed demonstrated that cities in Oklahoma with mask requirements are experiencing far fewer cases than cities without mandates.
McGough said that masks don’t make people safe, they simply make people “safer.” He explained that people need to observe social distancing and frequent sanitizing of their hands.
See our past coverage of the mask mandate in the City of Oklahoma City:
- Council votes in favor of mask mandate – takes effect immediately – July 17
- Mask mandate extended in Oklahoma City until October 20 – Sept. 1
- Council renews mask mandate, fails to take action on panhandling ord – Oct. 13
Todd Stone of Ward 4 explained that he wears a mask because he believes it’s the right thing to do, not because it is mandated. He said he didn’t believe in the mandate. His mask slipped below his nose as he talked, and he made no effort to adjust it.
He averred that nobody on the Council was wearing the mask simply because it is required. He was proven wrong when James Greiner of Ward 1 began to talk.
Greiner said that he was only wearing his mask because it was a city requirement.
Greiner went on to explain that he found a blog by a doctor in Tulsa named Jim Meehan, an ophthalmologist who sells supplements through his website. Greiner quoted libertally from Meehan’s blog, including some misinformation about the harmfulness of masks.
James Cooper of Ward 2 took great exception to Greiner’s comments. Cooper spoke about algorithms in various social media and internet search engines that would lead Greiner to seeing different information from the information Cooper sees. Cooper went on to quote data from scientists, ending his comments with the point that this information separates him from somebody “who believes an eye doctor over an epidemiologist.”
Larry McAtee of Ward 3 said that he was against a mandate because he is a grown man who makes his own decisions. “You’re a grown man, or a grown woman, or a grown person, and you should make your own decisions, too,” McAtee said, using gender-inclusive language.
So there would be no gap in days requiring masks in Oklahoma City, the mask ordinance needed to be passed and also to be qualified as an “emergency”.
The Mandate passed with a 6-3 majority. The emergency required seven votes, and Stone joined the majority for that vote.
The mask mandate will expire on January 22 if the Council does nothing to renew it another time.
Brian Alford, a representative of OG&E, came to offer a report on the local power company’s performance during the recent ice storm that devastated central Oklahoma and left over 400,000 without power, some for weeks.
He explained that the company had restored power faster after this storm than after the 2007 storm, the largest previous outage the company has experienced. This time, there were far many more outages than in 2007, he said.
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell told the panel that he believed welcoming competition into the market would spur innovation
Stone asked what grade Alford would give to OG&E regarding their response to the storm. He said he would give the company a “B.”
Cooper, a teacher, seemed to be ready to offer a different grade.
“My gratitude to the workers who suffered the cold conditions to give us power back is equal to my frustration in this moment,” Cooper said. After echoing the comments of Ward 6 Councilperson JoBeth Hamon regarding the financial loss of groceries, medicine, and productivity, he went on to take OG&E to task on communication.
He held up the handout delivered to each council member from OG&E and said, “This does not measure up to the magnitude of this moment.”
Assistant City Manager Kenny Tsoodle gave a presentation about the current status of the City’s allotment of CARES Act funds.
Tsoodle said that new amendments to the City’s CARES allocations would move $2.5 million to enhance the Minority Owned Small Business program. Furthermore, with the deadline of December 31 for expenditure of CARES money rapidly approaching, an amendment would allow the City Manager to move funds around to reimburse certain costs of personnel and program start-up costs, effectively adding money to the City’s general fund.
Greenwell spoke up to ask if the resolution before the Council could be broken up. He said that he was in favor of some of it, but that he didn’t believe that the City should be able to put any money into the general fund. He said he didn’t believe that was the intent of Congress with the CARES Act. He made the argument on moral ground, saying that the only ethical thing to do was to return the extra money to the U.S. Treasury.
Greenwell moved to split the resolution into two resolutions. His motion died for lack of a second.
The item passed with only one vote against.
SISU Youth is a program that offers temporary shelter and otherwise cares for transition-aged youth (18-25 years of age) experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma City.
A zoning case was brought before the Council to allow for a new shelter and some transitional housing to be established at an empty church building mere blocks away from SISU’s current home. The neighbors have, according to applicant Klauss Reimann-Phillips, been very supportive of the effort.
As the location is in Ward 2, Cooper enthusiastically moved the item for approval. The Council was unanimous in its approval of the project.
The City Council meets again on December 8 at 8:30 a.m. The meeting is scheduled to be held in person in the Council Chamber at City Hall.
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