The Fort Smith Board of Directors heard several residents express opinions Saturday for and against the revised ordinance that would require masks when inside buildings in the city. The board ultimately tabled the proposal after a nearly three-hour meeting.
Of the 33 Fort Smith residents who spoke to the Fort Smith Board of Directors, the majority were against the ordinance. Two likened the requirement to Nazi Germany, claiming that police would become the Gestapo and stating that the Nazis had doctors to support their actions.
Craig Belm brought a gas mask and talcum powder to show the only mask that is 100% effective and demonstrated the dispersion of germs when someone coughs while wearing a surgical mask. Belm put powder in the mask and coughed, the powder went to the side and back on himself, but not forward.
Sam Pensen is a senior citizen who uses public transit to get around Fort Smith and shared the impossibility of social distancing on a city bus and asked the board to consider the safety of him and his fellow riders by requiring masks.
Another citizen speaking in opposition to the ordinance said, "I have enough trouble controlling my wife, let alone trying to control a mass of people." He referenced that government should not try to control people by making them wear masks.
Shelly King brought up the argument of My Body, My Choice for abortion and said that wearing a mask falls under the same category. Another resident, Stan Ramsey said, "Sadly, we’re here today because our governor didn’t have the onions to do what was right." Both King and Ramsey were against the ordinance.
One issue that several residents brought up was accessibility to masks for residents of Fort Smith. With an approximately 25% poverty rate in the city, many were concerned that those who could not afford masks would be out of compliance because they could not afford one.
Several citizens and board members acknowledged the freedom in America to have the debate at all. Due to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, people have the freedom of speech and petition.
Various people cheered and applauded every time someone said something they agreed with and booed or laughed at things with which they disagreed. This did not stop during board discussion to the point that Ward 2 Director André Good had to state, "I respected you, respect me" before pointing out that it was the business portion of the meeting and the time for public comments had passed.
Several medical professionals from both Baptist Health and Mercy Hospital were present to answer questions. Both hospitals have full ICUs, but have space to expand if needed.
Brian Clardy of Baptist Health and University of Arkansas for Medical Science shared concern that, without proper protection, more cases would arise leading to doctors getting sick and the hospital not having enough staff to take care of COVID-19 patients.
Clardy cited a salon in Missouri that opened up and had over 100 clients come through while two of the staff were infected with COVID-19. However, those staff members were wearing masks and none of the clients were infected.
Ward 3 Director Lavon Morton proposed an amendment to the ordinance so that requirements for children following Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS) and places of worship were exempt from the requirement. That amendment did not pass.
Ward 1 Director Keith Lau and At-large Director Kevin Settle proposed an amendment that would allow businesses to opt out of the requirement for patrons, as long as they followed the state’s directives. That amendment did pass.
As the meeting reached the third hour, Good stated that after so much discussion, the item should be tabled so that the board and others could have time to review the further amended ordinance. The motion to table the ordinance passed 4-3.
Morton called for a special session on Tuesday, when the Fort Smith Board of Directors is scheduled to have a study session. If a majority of the board agrees, the ordinance will be revisited then. If not, the ordinance will be put on the July 21 agenda.