HILLSBORO, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- After narrowly approving a mask mandate at Thursday night's Jefferson County Health Department Board meeting, the board has abruptly overturned its decision.
The health department told News 4 that the mandate has been overturned by a 5-0 vote during an emergency meeting after concerns surfaced that the board didn't properly notify the public prior to the meeting that the mandate would be discussed and voted on.
The health board initially approved the mandate in a meeting Thursday night that lasted more than five hours by a 3-2 vote.
State Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman said her office sent a letter to the health department saying she would prepare to file a lawsuit over the lack of public notification about Thursday's meeting.
"No matter what crisis we are facing it is imperative that our rights are protected and we demand transparency from the political institutions that work on behalf of taxpayers," Coleman tweeted. She also spoke about her concerns that Friday's emergency meeting also didn't follow proper procedures.
Regardless of the decision today, I remain concerned that the enactment and repeal did not follow the procedures we have in place to ensure trust in our institutions and the legitimacy of their decisions.— MaryElizabethColeman (@meaccoleman) August 28, 2020
The mandate was supposed to go into effect Monday, August 31 for those aged 5 and above in public places that can't accommodate at least six feet of social distancing.
Suzy Davis, a member of the county's health department board, strongly opposed a mask mandate in the county. County Executive Dennis Gannon released a statement earlier Friday saying he is "not fully convinced that a mask/face covering mandate is entirely necessary at this time."
Currently, Jefferson County has a positivity rate of 11.6%. The state of Missouri has a 7-day positivity rate of 12.3%.
"I do believe that such a measure will certainly be difficult to enforce," Gannon said. "However, as the County Executive I fully respect the Health Board’s decisions. I continue to recommend that everyone take the necessary personal actions to mitigate the virus and assist in fighting infectious disease throughout our County."
Several businesses News 4 crews talked to said they were worried about the mandate.
"A lot of people don’t want to be told to wear a mask," Sherry Dobbs said. She manages The Boro restaurant in Hillsboro.
The restaurant just opened last week and now with a mask mandate, Dobbs wonders if anyone will come in.
"I would like to see more dine-in customers, but if they’re going to mandate the mask, then probably not," Dobbs said.
St. Louis City and County are they only counties in our area that have enacted a mask mandate. St. Charles County has declined to put a mandate in place, instead asking businesses to make masks mandatory for service.
Jefferson County's Health Department later released the following statement about repealing the mask mandate:
At Jefferson County Health Department our mission is to “champion positive health outcomes and behaviors through innovative programs and community engagement.” Our priority is the health and well-being of Jefferson County residents.
On behalf of Jefferson County Health Department, I want to extend my sincerest apologies for the confusion and stress surrounding our ordinance late last week. We never want the public to feel misled about the process used when preparing public health orders.
After viewing the comments, messages, and emails we have received, we recognize that there is confusion around the issue, and we want clear it up. When voting on a county wide ordinance, specific processes and procedures need to take place. Rather than move forward with an ordinance without public review, our board decided to meet Friday and revoke the ordinance. This allows the community time to review it.
“I don’t believe we made a mistake on the agenda for Sunshine, but we would rather have residents comfortable that we are being transparent and open, so we recalled the document,” states Jefferson County Health Department Director, Kelley Vollmar.
We recognize that we have lost some of your trust throughout the process. In these challenging times, we have, and will continue, to strive for transparency in communication with the public we serve. We have attached the agendas, new draft ordinance language, and the emails from last week.
We stand behind our recommendation for wearing masks per CDC guidelines; however, we understand that not everyone may see it as helpful. We encourage feedback from the public and thank those that have reached out to express their opinions. This is how we grow as an agency, as a county.
Moving forward, we continue to strongly encourage the use of preventative measures in the county. We will work with businesses, food establishments, schools, and other community locations to push the “Protect Public Health” message. We will continue to provide accurate and timely information, education, and data so county residents are educated and empowered to make the best health decisions for their families.
We will continue to prevent illness, promote health and wellness, and protect public health. We are proud to be public health.