Radford Council tables mask ordinance

In a meeting lasting well over three hours, Radford City Council Monday night tabled discussion on a local ordinance on the use of face coverings.

Council also advanced the McHarg Elementary School renovation and expansion project, threw its support behind a regional wellness commitment, and approved making $200,000 in CARES Act money available through grants to local businesses.

Mayor David Horton suggested the tabling of Ordinance 1735 governing the wearing of masks and face coverings, and called on council to instead express support for the governor’s Executive Order No. 63, issued May 29, calling for use of face masks indoors and when social distancing is not possible.

Council voted unanimously in favor of Horton’s suggestion.

Horton called instead for the city to pursue the promotional and educational aspects of wearing masks and other face coverings, and “that we engage fully in the Be Committed Be Well campaign, and we see how it goes.”

Horton noted that council can re-visit a mask ordinance at a later time if needbe.

He noted as of Monday the city had recorded 54 cases of COVID-19, and that that number had risen from the mid-twenties when discussion on masks began.

Two citizens did come out to speak against the mask ordinance.

Emily Alderman Stoots noted she is a Republican due to her conservative beliefs.

“One of those beliefs is taking care of others. In the midst of the coronavirus, if that means wearing a mask, then I’ll wear a mask. I don’t like wearing a mask. I don’t like looking around my hometown and seeing it become more and more socialist and more and more under dictator type of roles, but I will wear a mask,” she stated.

Stoots said tensions among Radford citizens isn’t about masks, but “is about the lack of transparency, again, with our city council.”

Alluding to an earlier meeting in which council approved an ordinance governing the size of gatherings allowed in the city, Stoots questioned the need for an “emergency meeting” when council knew when Radford University students would be arriving back in Radford.

She charged the emergency meeting was called “to push through ordinances without public comment, because some of these ordinances are absurd. And you know that.”

She questioned putting more pressure on police to enforce additional ordinances, especially when the governor has already mandated masks. “Isn’t that enough,” she asked.

Stoots also questioned putting more mandates on the city’s citizens and businesses, which she said are barely surviving already.

Jody Pyles contrasted council’s consideration of a mask mandate with its position during the 2nd Amendment Sanctuary movement last fall.

“Let me remind this council that it was your stance during the 2A Sanctuary Movement, that it wasn’t your job to create, to combat, or even decide the validity of any law passed down from the state. However, the state has determined that we are at stage three of COVID restrictions and now you all are trying to implement stronger restrictions with ordinances, and even fines,” Pyles said.

“This overstep by local government directly goes against the orders already in place on state and even federal levels,” Pyles continued.

Pyles also charged that through additional ordinances “we’re trying to hurt businesses in Radford.”

In response to Pyles’ comments, Horton said he agreed the city didn’t need to be hurting businesses.

“One of the reasons we’re doing the things we’re doing is to keep from hurting our local businesses in that if we were to have a tremendous spiking of cases if we were to have hospitalizations at a much higher level we may have to shut our local businesses down, and we don’t want to see that happen. The time to take preventative action is before we have the issue arise at a higher level,” he said.

In response to Stoots, Horton said, “As far as calling a special meeting to do it … I understand. I don’t like to do that either, but at times when there’s an emergency that needs to be addressed quickly. This is the third meeting at which we’ve addressed a portion of this. So, it wasn’t all undertaken at one single meeting. We’ve had discussion, we took action where we could find action, we’ve deferred where we’ve needed to receive more information. If we had

waited until tonight to begin, it could be two weeks from now before we were finishing up, and we could be potentially losing opportunities during that time.”

Horton also disagreed with Stoots on the issue of transparency.

“I do challenge the point that we have not been transparent. I feel like we’ve been extremely transparent. Certainly the more time we have, the more opportunity we have to do things and we’ll

continue to do so.”

Prior to tabling the mask ordinance, council approved a resolution in support of the regional Be Committed Be Well initiative laid out by the New River Valley Public Health Task Force.

The resolution echoes the task force’s call to citizens of the NRV to commit to 10 strategies to bolster health and well-being, including wearing face coverings / masks in public areas, practicing social distancing and to practice good hygiene including frequent hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

The task force’s wellness commitment was timed to coincide with the opening of schools in the valley and the return of students to the area’s three colleges and universities.

Also, during Monday’s meeting, council advanced the McHarg Elementary renovation and expansion project.

The project – already two years in the making – calls for a renovation of the 49,200 square foot school along with a 26,000 square foot addition.

A contractor is working now to remove possible hazardous material from the school, and bids for the actual construction work are due this week.

Radford’s School Board and City Council anticipate funding the project with $16.8 million in General Obligation School Bonds.

Monday night, city council voted to move forward administratively on the project to advance a financing application to the Virginia Public School Authority for consideration in its Fall bond pool.

Horton noted Monday’s vote does not commit the city on the project, as final bid numbers have not been seen and a public hearing has yet to be held. Council voted to hold that public hearing on Sept. 28.

Additionally Monday, council voted unanimously to divert $200,000 in CARES Act funding received by the city to a small business grant program. Businesses in the city can apply for grants of between $1,000 and $5,000 which they can use to get back to work following COVID-19 shutdowns.