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Facemasks optional in Assembly Chambers after Mayor Ward vetoes mandate

Face masks remain optional in the Mona Lisa Drexler Assembly Chambers following Thursday...
Face masks remain optional in the Mona Lisa Drexler Assembly Chambers following Thursday night’s meeting of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.(Alex Bengel/KTVF)
Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 4:41 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Facemasks remain optional in the Mona Lisa Drexler Assembly Chambers following Thursday night’s meeting of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.

At a regular meeting on August 12th, the borough assembly voted five to four in favor of requiring that facemasks be worn while in the chambers.

According to the resolution, the policy would be in effect whenever Alaska is in a high alert level for resident cases.

The next day, borough Mayor Bryce Ward vetoed the resolution. The mayor said, “As the administrator for the borough, I’m the one who’s responsible for enacting and enforcing the rules and policies, and I don’t think it’s something that we should be requiring folks to do, to wear a mask.”

At the meeting Assembly Member Liz Lyke expressed dismay, saying, “I’m really struggling to know how to feel about this because we’re seeing the consequences in our country and our city just keep piling up.”

The assembly heard public testimony both for and against the mask requirement.

Community member Lance Roberts said, “I first want to thank the mayor for vetoing the memorandum, or whatever it was, resolution, to require masks in the chamber and force a medical intervention on people. I want to thank those assembly members who did vote against it, and I urge you to stand strong on that.”

Meanwhile, Richard Seifert favored the resolution, explaining, “I think it was part of the duty of any servant of the public who gets elected to serve the public, which you all are, to protect the health and safety of the constituents.”

“All these people who are claiming they have rights, rights always come with responsibility,” he added.

Mask requirements remain a controversial issue in the borough.

Speaking via Zoom, Presiding Officer Mindy O’Neall said, “We heard from a loud majority, a loud group of people in our community who made threats, including members of our own body, that they would not follow the guidelines or the will of the assembly.”

Frank Tomaszewski, Assembly Member in Seat B voted against the initial resolution and against overriding the mayor’s veto saying, “Because you come into this chamber and you put a mask on does not mean you are not going to catch COVID.”

He added, “There are inherent risks with everything, and I applaud the mayor for eliminating this political resolution.”

6 votes were needed to override the veto. After some debate, the override failed with only 5 votes from the same members who voted in favor of the original resolution.

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