A group of Lake Havasu City citizens, including a pair of elected officials, added their voices to calls throughout the county, state and country to end mask requirements.
During the call to the public at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, a total of 17 residents took to the podium to express their frustrations and urge the reversal of an emergency proclamation from Mayor Cal Sheehy that requires face coverings in areas where it is difficult to physically distance from others. Many of the residents said the masks themselves create health issues for many individuals, that the proclamation is dividing the community, and also claimed that the data relied upon to make mask recommendations is incorrect or outright lies. Other popular reasons speakers gave to dispose of the mask requirements is that masks are not effective in stopping the virus from spreading, and many also asserted that the current health situation has been overblown by the media and it is not a pandemic.
Several residents also argued that the mask proclamation is an unconstitutional encroachment on their freedom.
State Senator Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) was one of the people to address the City Council during the call to the public. Borrelli said some of the mask requirements are being pushed by the state and are out of the city’s hands - like restaurant and bar owners potentially losing their liquor licenses if they do not require masks in their establishments.
“The other businesses that are out there don’t have a state mandate or license to hold over their head,” Borrelli said.
Borrelli and fellow District 5 legislators Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) and Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) have all spoken publicly in opposition to requirements to wear face coverings. But Borrelli said their hands are tied at the state level because the legislature doesn’t have enough votes to call an emergency session. He said even if they were able to call a special session, there wouldn’t be enough support to override any of Governor Doug Ducey’s executive orders because Ducey could just veto the bill. A veto requires a three-fifths majority in both chambers to override and Borrelli said the “minority party,” referring to Democrats, would not vote to overturn the executive orders.
“What I’m asking, Representative Biasucci is asking, Representative Cobb is asking, is that you stand with us and help us push back on the governor with the department of health,” Borrelli said. “I mean this with all respect, because I respect every one of you on the dias. You’ve all been elected by the people and we know that your heart is in the right place… This has to end, and we need your help to fight what is going on in Phoenix and is being pushed back on us.”
Councilmember-elect Nancy Campbell also spoke during the call to the public, informing the council that she had to fill her prescription for asthma medication for the first time in four years - which she attributed to recently starting to wear a mask.
Still, Campbell was one of the only speakers at the meeting who wore a mask prior to going up to the podium and she said it continues to cause her problems.
“As I am talking to you today I have a rash all around my face that I am broken out with,” Campbell said. “I am following your mandate. I called my doctor twice today. He said ‘Quit wearing the mask.’”
The mask proclamation in Lake Havasu City already includes a list of exemptions, including when individuals are able to socially distance, all kids under 6 years old, those with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks, and as part of a religious ceremony or service. Furthermore, the proclamation does not include any avenue for enforcement nor penalties for non-compliance.
Several of the speakers acknowledged that the mask proclamation doesn’t include any penalties but said some citizens have taken on enforcement by themselves.
“Many citizens feel it is their duty to bully people who are not wearing a mask,” said Karen Vanderjagt. “This is creating unrest and hostility, thereby dividing us as a community.”
Mask requirements have been instituted in many areas throughout the United States and the world in an effort to help control the spread of covid-19 but they are not universal. Even in Arizona a few communities, like Prescott and Parker, have never had a requirement to wear a mask in public.
Several citizens pointed to Prescott, specifically, as an example that Havasu should follow.
In some areas throughout the country where masks are required, citizens have recently held protests and pushed back against those mandates.
In Mohave County Kingman, Bullhead City, and Lake Havasu City all have mask requirements in place. There have been several protests in Kingman over the summer against its mask proclamation and Kingman Mayor Jen Miles recently asked the City Council to discuss the issue and ratify the proclamation. About 20 people participated in a mask protest in Havasu outside of City Hall in July.
What they want
Several of the speakers said that they don’t blame the Lake Havasu City Council itself but rather the wider culture of panic and fear that has taken hold throughout the country.
Greg Befort said he could just as easily be addressing any City Council in the country, but he is at the meeting in Havasu because they are the ones who are accountable to him as a resident.
Befort and John Yolla both added that the residents aren’t asking for permission to not wear masks - they plan on doing that anyway. Rather they are asking for the council’s help to end the proclamation. Yolla said he runs the Zero Tolerance Lake Havasu Facebook page, which has about 2,600 members who are against the facemask mandate.
“We aren’t going for it, so it is going to be an issue,” Yolla said. “We want to work with everybody, but I just want to say that this is where we are at. We are not going to be controlled with these masks. The jig is up.”
The Zero Tolerance Lake Havasu Facebook page, which is private, says its members “pledge to support, help protect and identify threats perpetrated or made against business owners, home owners and citizens.” It was created on June 2, apparently in response to the local Black Lives Matter protest that was being organized at the time.
Bill Mitchell suggested the council make Havasu a “Constitutional sanctuary city,” after asserting that the mask order itself is unconstitutional. Sara Jones urged the council to strike down the mask order immediately. Others asked the City Council to do their own research into the topic.
Some of the speakers also suggested that it’s time to lift all of the restrictions that have been put in place due to covid-19 - not just masks.
Reaction from councilmembers
City Council members are not allowed to discuss topics during meetings that are not on the agenda so councilmembers were not able to respond to the resident’s concerns on Tuesday, but a couple councilmembers thanked those who spoke for providing their input when asked on Wednesday.
“Any time a member of the public comes before their elected officials to express their thoughts it is a good thing,” Vice Mayor David Lane said in an email to Today’s News-Herald. “It is imperative the City Council has communication with the public we represent and hear from them. We appreciate them taking the time to come before us and speak their mind. There was no doubt each of those that spoke have the best interest of the community in their heart and believe their ideas are the solution to the issue.”
Councilmember Michele Lin also said in an email she was happy to see the citizens engaging with the council and respects their opinions, but she noted that she has had twice as many people thank the city for the mask mandate. Lin said she personally supports the mask mandate, believing that it helps bring down the covid numbers.
“I am not just a council member, but a private restaurant business owner, a mother, and someone with a congenital heart defect,” Lin said. “I want nothing more than to see covid gone, our city back to normal, my children back in school, my business back to full operation, and the reassurance that my health will not be jeopardized by this virus. However, until science can reassure us that this is able to happen, I will continue to practice the things that keep the community, my family and myself safe, and that includes wearing a mask.”
Lane said he doesn’t believe that the government should require masks. He said he told Sheehy that when the mayor asked for his advice prior to issuing the proclamation, but he added that he supports the mayor’s decision.
“The Mayor made the decision to issue the mandate and I support our Mayor, even when we disagree on an issue,” Lane said. “He was elected by the residents of this City to be the Mayor and make the decisions. He receives emails and phone calls daily on both sides of the issue from residents who are passionate about their position. I know he has the best interest of the residents and their health in mind before he makes any decision.”
Lane also added that if the mayor believes the mask mandate should be extended beyond the Oct. 15 expiration of the current order, he would like to see it come before the full City Council for a decision with input from the public.
Lin said she also supports the mayor’s proclamation and doesn’t think the City Council needs to vote on masks at this time.
“By the time it could be put on the agenda, and brought forth to a meeting we would already be approaching the October extension date,” she said. “It would be a discredit to our Mayor’s decision.”
Quotes from Call to the Public
“What we need is a Churchill who is not afraid to speak the truth, protect our precious liberties, and be willing to take the consequences to be on the side of what is right. If we say we want and value freedom we all have to live with the consequences.”
“I can’t walk into a store and not get looks if I don’t wear a mask. If I do wear a mask I get looks from people who aren’t wearing a mask. It has caused more division than I can tell you and our Constitutional rights have been stripped.”
“This is not a pandemic. The emergency is over by every definition but yet we still tout that we are in an emergency and this is a pandemic. The remedy has been worse than the disease itself by magnitudes.”
“Even though I know that there are many exemptions that you have written in there, I strongly feel it is time that we let this go and try to get back to our life. We need to get these lifted. By lifting these restrictions our scared citizens, our business owners that feel that they have to have these mask restrictions in their stores, by lifting this they are going to feel more comfortable to come back out. That everything is starting to become okay again. We can’t keep living in this fear and this dark.”
“We are not in a health crisis. There is no justification for business, school, and recreation shutdowns here or mandatory wearing of face coverings in public. Immediately stop controlling free citizens with irrational, unreasonable, universal mandates. Officials have overstepped their authority.”
“I’m watching a tyrannical government that is federal, state, county, city destroy our constitutional republic promoting a false flag event.”
“Hospitality is hurting. Our town is more locally owned than anything else. Small businesses are struggling. You are sending out a message of fear and power. If you truly care to see our town thrive and pull through this alleged pandemic, remove this unconstitutional proclamation.”
“I’m an adult. I would like to make an adult choice of wearing a mask or not. If somebody is afraid of getting the virus then they have that choice too. Me not wearing a mask is not going to give them the virus.”
“Being mandated to cover my face, personally I feel accosted, I feel pressed on, and I don’t think that I am alone in that. We are looking to you to relieve us of an unnecessary proclamation. Without that we are all either following along or we are in rebellion. Things are becoming hostile.”
“This whole thing should have never happened. I’m not blaming any of you folks - its the whole country. The whole thing should have never happened. So right now is the time to fix it.”
“If you create a mandate, a law, or anything that is unconstitutional it is null-and-void. It is unenforceable and the citizenry does not have to obey it… You as a body are required to enforce the Constitution and to do the things that are right in this city. So I’m going to suggest to you to make this a sanctuary city -- a Constitutional sanctuary city where we support the Constitution.”
“You said, ‘It is the job of the city council to fight for the rights of our citizens.’ So I just wanted to remind you - please fight for the rights of your citizens.”
Bonnie Toy referring to a comment in a previous meeting by Councilmember David Lane
“Mohave County is not like the other counties. For example, Maricopa County’s neighbor cities and sister cities are all on top of each other. We are different. We are 65 miles away from Kingman and 65 miles away from Bullhead and they are 40 miles away from each other. Unfortunately Havasu is being punished for other parts of the county.”
State Senator Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)