By a 0-6 vote, the Nixa City Council voted against requiring people to wear face coverings in public places.
The vote came at 11:53 p.m. at the end of almost five hours of debate and a public hearing in which 41 people waited their turns to take the podium at Nixa City Hall on July 20.
“We’ve all agonized over what we need to do for our community,” District 2 Councilman Aron Peterson said, moments before the vote on a bill that would have made mask use mandatory for Nixa residents when they venture into public spaces for 90 days. Anyone found to have violated the mask order would have been given a warning, and then would have had to pay fines of $100 or more for each time they were found to be unmasked after the warning.
Instead, the Nixa city government will pledge its support for the Christian County Pandemic Response Task Force, an organization of government, public health and business entities that will promote, but not require, the use of face coverings as a layer of defense against the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
41 speakers at council meeting
The city council heard about four hours of testimony from 41 different speakers, 31 of whom spoke against an order to wear masks in public.
“People have made up their minds. In general, that’s what we do as people,” Nixa resident Josh LaBrie said.
LaBrie argued that a mandate would not lead to more mask use in Nixa, but it would change the way that residents of Nixa look at one another. It would also change the way that the rest of the world views Nixa, he argued.
“You’re not going to increase the use of masks, but you will increase the hostility and the feelings towards those that are and aren’t,” LaBrie said. “As soon as you put that mandate in place, the hostility begins.”
They made signs. They waved American flags. They clapped and cheered. For the first time in his seven years as Nixa’s mayor, Brian Steele used the gavel on the city council dais to try to limit outbursts from the gallery.
And they talked. They talked about N95 masks compared to surgical masks. They talked about freedom of choice, civil liberties, the U.S. Constitution and the Bible. They brought up Romans, Corinthians and Revelation. They quoted medical journals and the story of the Sword of Damocles.
There was one man who remarked, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist whatsoever,” and then made allusions to at least three conspiracy theories.
Emotions ran high. Parliamentary order was stretched. Patience underwent thorough testing.
Speakers quoted Benjamin Franklin and Ronald Reagan. They talked psychology, data analytics, government, theology, logic, epidemiology, biology and chemistry.
For Nixa resident Mike Cosgrove, who said he opposed the mask mandate but actually favors mask use, the matter comes down to the intelligence of people who live and work in Nixa.
“There’s this thought that we don’t know any better,” Cosgrove said. “It’s not so much the mask issue, it’s,’You’re too stupid to figure out your own life.’”
The idea of mandate as opposed to a choice is where Logan Lewis drew a line with the city council.
“We’re not anti-mask, we’re anti-mask mandate. We’re absolutely in support of an individual’s decision to wear a mask,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t hurt me if you guys want to wear masks, or whether you are wearing masks. I was absolutely happy to abide by the rule that I had to wear a mask to come here and speak tonight.”
A rule remains in effect for masks to be used in buildings which the city of Nixa owns, including City Hall. Lewis, however, opposed a policy that reaches into private businesses. He supports the concept of business owners and managers choosing their own mask policies based on their own research and knowledge.
“A government should not and should never be capable of instituting a mandate like that, especially for something like COVID-19,” Lewis said. “In a time where history in our country is being literally torn down, be it a dark spot or a misunderstood representation. In a time where police are being threatened with abolishment, it’s absolutely important that decisions and deliberations are left up to the people, and not government.”
Some speakers cast stones. Nixa City Council members, the mayor, doctors and nurses, “the media,” China, the Springfield City Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nixa Public Schools and other entities became the targets of ire for some of the speakers.
Chris Foster, a Nixa pastor, used three of his allotted five minutes to publicly pray for the city council members before they voted.
“I’ve never been to a meeting where I’ve been demeaned and prayed over at the same meeting,” Councilman Matt Barker said.
Councilman Jarad Giddens felt as though Nixa residents, both those who are for and against public mask use policy, can benefit from an organized education campaign on how masking might help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Everyone wears one for somebody. I feel like we’ve skipped a step. We skipped the education process,” Giddens said.
The education campaign from the countywide pandemic task force will continue, Nixa City Administrator Jimmy Liles confirmed to the city council.
At least one speaker thanked the Nixa City Council for listening.
“It’s nice to see that Nixa is talking, and you guys are very brave for having the job you have,” Charles Jackson told the six council members.