Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson signed an executive order Monday mandating face coverings in public except for select circumstances, and the community appears to be largely divided over the matter.
Monday morning, the county released a statement along with the executive order which stated that local mayors reached a consensus that masks should be required among the community in public spaces.
“Mayor Anderson recognizes that there are many varying opinions on this issue but believes that asking Williamson Countians to wear a face covering in indoor public places, and in outdoor public places where distancing is not possible, is a necessary safety measure in order that our local businesses may remain open and our schools will be able to open in the fall,” the statement read.
The executive order lists exceptions for various groups of people, including those under age 12, those in a place of worship, those in a private residence or vehicle, and those engaging in the voting process in upcoming elections.
This order is set to expire at the end of the day on Aug. 3, 2020, and classifies violations as a class A misdemeanor. The Tennessee Code Annotated — TCA 40-35-111(e)(1) — states that such a violation would warrant imprisonment of “not greater than eleven (11) months, twenty-nine (29) days or a fine not to exceed two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute.”
The order states businesses and facilities should post signage to inform the public of the mask requirement and “shall enforce the requirement within the establishment.” Anderson shared during a Williamson County Board of Commissioners Budget Committee meeting on Monday evening citations will be a last resort in maintaining this order.
“We’re not going out with a big stick,” he said. “We’ve asked Dusty (Rhoades, the Williamson County sheriff). We’re talking to our other city law enforcement. Let’s educate. Let’s promote. And the big stick of writing citations is a last resort.”
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore shared on social media that, because the penalties are written into state law, “Anderson was unable to modify that portion.”
Business owners respond to mandate
Marianne DeMeyers, owner of Tin Cottage on Main Street in Franklin, said her business is all about kindness, love and caring for people. She explained that she has installed plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers, designated a path through the store, provided disposable masks and hand sanitizer, and encouraged compliance with local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
She said she did not require her employees to wear a mask until the mandate was issued, though many did, especially when interacting with customers. She said she is willing to do what it takes to care for others and to prevent another wave of business shutdowns.
“What we don’t want to see is our business closed again because it was really hard, and I don’t know how many small businesses could keep doing that and survive,” DeMeyers said. “So, we’ll wear a mask if that’s what it takes, and we don’t have a problem doing that.”
Hailey Hiett, owner of the Brentwood Market, said her business required masks for employees a little before the mandate because, while she has had customers who don’t seem worried about people not wearing face coverings, others have expressed concern.
“My perspective is that we as business owners here want to do whatever we can to make sure that all of our customers feel comfortable even though it is an inconvenience,” Hiett said.
DeMeyers explained, too, that while she is on board with wearing masks, it is difficult for workers to keep them on all day. She said she plans on allowing her employees to take short breaks in a secluded place to take a few deep breaths before returning to work.
“It’s really hard to wear a mask all day,” she said. “It’s suffocating. You start feeling the effects of lethargy."
In terms of enforcement of the mandate, DeMeyers explained she does not feel like it’s her place to question people who say they are exempt from the order.
“If someone says, ‘I’m not wearing a mask because of a medical condition,’ I don’t know their life,” she said. “I’m not going to question them because, if they feel like that is a necessary thing to say, then who am I to argue? I’m not a medical doctor.”
She plans to ask those without masks to follow social distancing guidelines and the path designated by arrows on the floor in accordance with Gov. Bill Lee’s Tennessee Pledge guidelines.
For Hiett, she shared that so far, her customers have been understanding of the mandate and that she has not yet had to confront anyone about the matter.
“I haven’t had to turn anyone away yet, and I also really have had respectful customers,” she said. “I think being a small market and kind of being a small, mom-and-pop location, most people that come in here, we know them, they’re regulars, and they get it.”
Citizens divide over mask requirement
In addition to business owners, members of the community quickly took to social media Monday to share their thoughts, exemplifying a divide with some commending the county for the mandate and others sharing their belief that the order is unconstitutional and that their rights are being taken away. Others believe masks are ineffective and should not be required, statements often met with claims that they are effective.
Amid this divide, the governor has encouraged Tennesseans that “wearing a mask is not a political statement.”
Courtenay Rogers, treasurer of the Williamson County Democratic Party, shared a similar sentiment, though she explained that her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.
“A pandemic isn’t partisan, in my opinion,” she said. “Viruses don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican or an Independent, and this is not something we need to make political."
Cheryl Brown, chair of the Williamson County GOP, shared she believes wearing a mask is more of a personal issue rather than a partisan one.
“I respect my leader, and I understand that they want to follow the executive order, but for me personally, I say it’s a personal choice,” she said.
Rogers expressed she believes the community should listen to those who are trained to handle public health matters such as this pandemic.
“We cannot all be experts on pandemics and everything that goes along with that, and it’s really important that we are listening to experts and that we source any information that we’re getting to make sure that it’s accurate,” she said. “It’s up to everybody to digest and share accurate information.”
Kelly Baker-Hefley, chair of the WCDP, shared that she hopes people’s hearts are dedicated to service over a political agenda.
“We shouldn’t be trying to use this as an opportunity to advance our agenda,” Baker-Hefley said. “That’s definitely not my goal as chair of the Democratic party. I don’t want to leverage this as an opportunity to gain votes. I want people to live.”
Read the full executive order from the county below. For more information, visit williamsoncounty-tn.gov.