LaFayette City Council votes to table discussion on lifting mask mandate, city attorney walks out

Published 7:53 am Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A discussion about the city of LaFayette’s ongoing mask mandate for city employees resulted in a back and forth debate that ended with City Attorney Mack Tucker walking out of the meeting.

Tucker, who had presented evidence toward ending the city’s mask mandate, was not wearing a mask, despite the policy in place. After he presented, the council voted 3-2 to table a discussion on changing the mask mandate and reopening city hall to the public.

After the vote, Councilman Michael Ellis pointed out — for the second time — that Tucker was not wearing a mask.

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“I’m not going to wear a mask, I’m going to walk out of this room, and whatever happens, happens,” Tucker said.

“I think we need to look at getting ourselves a new city attorney,” one of the council members uttered in response.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Hunter said.

As Tucker was packing his belongings, Mayor Kenneth Vines asked if he would stay and listen to the rest of the discussion. Tucker said he did not mind staying, but he said due to the mandate he could not stay in the room and asked if he could stand outside at the door. Hunter told him to stand outside the door.

“So, he quit,” Vines asked.

“Basically,” Hunter said.

The discussion started with Tucker’s presentation, which he said numerous times he was asked to give, regarding COVID-19. The city currently has a mask mandate for city employees and for inside city buildings.

Tucker pointed out the decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Chambers County and the state of Alabama, as well as the updated CDC guidance. Alabama’s COVID-19 cases have fallen into the hundreds per day — down from thousands in January — and the latest CDC guidance allows more than 90% of the country to be maskless in doors.

“So at this point, the CDC guidance no longer recommends mask-wearing in a public setting, especially for Chambers County, for the past month or so,” Tucker told the council. “I wanted to bring that up for two reasons. One, I think it’s dubious that a mask can be required in a public setting when there’s no basis for it. When you have the CDC guidelines that say that the mask mandate is not required in a public setting when you have a low transmissibility standard, which is what this shows at the community level, and the same thing should go for the city employees. But I wanted to get this information to you. I think it is imperative that the city, at this point at a minimum, remove the mask mandate for the public that attends a council meeting. And I would also advise that the employees should not be required to wear masks as well.”

Ellis pointed out that the mandate was voted on to protect the citizens and employees of the City of LaFayette.

“I understand looking at the data and all that what’s going on now,” Ellis said. “I thought it wasn’t fair, you know, we require everybody who came in this building or in a public meeting or anything to do with the city to wear a mask, and you just come in, and you know, don’t wear one.”

Tucker said he was not in attendance at the last meeting because of the mandate and was in attendance Monday because he was asked to lead the discussion on the mandate. He told the mayor and council he would leave if requested. At that point, Vines allowed the discussion to continue with Tucker still present without a mask.

Councilmember Terry Mangram said he felt that the council was at a point where they should discuss the current mandate and a potential change.

“I think we were at a point of discussing the mask situation, as far as whether we were going to continue,” Mangram said. “I’m for making a move as to say taking it away as far as the mask wearing for all city employees and people entering city buildings and things like that.”

Councilmember Shannon Hunter shared a different perspective with the council, citing why masks effectively stopped the spread of COVID-19.

“I think one of the things we need to consider here is the mask really protects other people more than it protects the wearer,” Hunter said. “It’s like the surgeons and nurses in an operating room wear masks. Are they afraid they’re going to get something from the patient? No, it’s so that they don’t contaminate the patient with something from them because they’re at risk during the surgery, and so that protects the surgery. So you have to think about not just as what you’re doing for yourself, what you’re doing for other people.”

Hunter said he didn’t think a mandate was needed at the moment, but he was uncertain whether one might be required down the road.

“So, we need to think about this carefully,” he said. “I don’t know that we need a mandate at the moment. But we might need one in six weeks. I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

Vines agreed that COVID is a fluid situation, and there is a level of uncertainty as to what the positive case numbers will look like a few months from now.

“It’s an up and down situation,” Vines said. “I agree with councilman Hunter, one minute we may be rolling along, and the next minute the CDC may say we have a problem, and we’re back to masks again.”

Vines also suggested that if the council were to take action, they should consider reopening city hall as it remains closed.

Councilman Toney Thomas made a motion to table the discussion on the mask mandate.

Tucker asked what evidence the council needed to see in order to move away from the mandate.

“I would like to know what evidence they wish to see,” Tucker said. “The CDC doesn’t think that masks are required indoors. What expertise the council might wish to see that would override the need for a mask mandate? The evidence is laid out … I don’t know where I am going to get more authoritative than the CDC.”

Ellis again stated his concerns regarding Tucker not abiding by the current mask mandate.

“Again, I want to comment, the evidence on what you presented, I mean, that’s fine. I keep up with this stuff, too,” Ellis said. “But my point here, like I said, if we vote and pass a mandate or ordinance or anything and an employee just defies what we pass, why are we here?”

Tucker stated he is not an employee and would leave if requested.

Hunter, Thomas, and Ellis voted yes to table the discussion in a roll call vote, while Vines and Mangram voted no. Councilmember Tammie Williams was not present to vote.

After the vote concluded, Tucker asked the mayor to be excused. Thomas said he had items to discuss that required the attorney’s presence.

When asked by Hunter what his reasoning for not wearing a mask, Tucker said the data does not support wearing a mask.

“I’m not going to wear a mask, I’m going to walk out of this room, and whatever happens, happens,” Tucker said.

As Tucker was packing his belongings, Vines asked if he would stay and listen to the rest of the discussion.

Tucker said he did not mind staying, but he could not stay in the room and asked if he could stand outside at the door.

Hunter told him to stand outside the door, and Tucker left and the council continued to other business.

“So, he quit,” Williams asked.

“Basically,” Hunter said.

Vines confirmed as of Tuesday Tucker is still the city’s attorney.

The council then moved on to its next discussion. Tucker could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.