Tuesday’s City Council meeting was the first meeting to hold Citizen’s Communications since going to an online-only format.
The Council approved a $2 million project to improve a segment of Opelika Road near Niffer's Place.
City Engineer Alison Frazier explained the project includes turning lanes, signaling and increased lighting for pedestrians. It will help handle traffic from a nearby development.
“We have some very exciting economic development opportunities here,” said Mayor Ron Anders. “We’re in a very difficult time nation-wide… [but] we’ve got some exciting opportunities and announcements coming forth.”
Anders explained that since the City did not announce plans to discuss any mask ordinance, they could not vote to pass one that night. Residents were allowed to speak about the issue during Citizen’s Communications, however.
“I want to make it clear that tonight, the Council will not be making a final decision on the use of masks in our community,” Anders said. “We have received communications that there were expectations for a decision to be made tonight, but no decision will be made tonight.”
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Fourteen residents came forward asking for a mask ordinance be put in place. Both a letter with over 150 Lee County residents and a petition with over 1,000 signatures were presented to the Council.
No residents joined the Citizen’s Communications to speak against a potential mask ordinance, though multiple Council members received emails with arguments against an ordinance.
“Based on the communications we’ve received from our community and what we’ve heard from citizens tonight, this is certainly something we need to dig in to more intently,” Anders said. “It is my belief that it cannot wait for two weeks.”
Anders plans to call Gov. Kay Ivey's office and the State Department of Health office for recommendations. He will also talk to Opelika mayor Gary Fuller and Probate Judge Bill English to discuss plans for their communities.
“This past week, I was on a call with the Big 10 Mayors and we made a request of the governor that she was to pass a statewide mandate for indoor mask usage,” Anders said. “She has not decided to do so at this point in time.”
The Big 10 Mayors are the mayors of Huntsville, Madison, Decatur, Birmingham, Hoover, Montgomery, Dothan, Auburn, Tuscaloosa and Mobile. The mayors have met with Gov. Ivey on multiple occasions to discuss legislature for the state.
Anders said that a statewide mandate would be easier due to intercounty business traffic, but cities and counties now can make changes for themselves. The five biggest cities in the state and Selma have all passed mask ordinances so far.
Anders encourages those on both sides of the mask ordinance argument to reach out and speak up to the City.
City Manager Jim Buston stated that Auburn requires approval from the State Department of Public Health in order to hold a special meeting and vote.
“I see no reason whatsoever to delay … the discussion of this,” said Ward 2 Council member Kelley Griswold. “I think it’s a disservice to our citizenry if we sit back and wait to hear from other bodies or other communities. We shouldn’t be kicking this down the road any farther than absolutely necessary.”
Ward 2 Council member Kelley Griswold, Ward 5 Council member Steven Dixon, Ward 3 Council member Beth Witten and Ward 6 Council member Bob Parsons were in agreement that they should hold a special meeting before the next City Council meeting.
Ward 8 Council member Tommy Dawson and Ward 1 Council member Connie Fitch-Taylor both want conversations with nearby community leaders about their consideration of ordinances.
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