Dalton City Council says mask wearing 'isn't a political issue,' about health and economic recovery

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"We all still need to take steps to protect ourselves and others from the (COVID-19) virus," Dalton Mayor David Pennington said Monday night in a statement on behalf of the City Council. "Those actions include, but are not limited to, wearing masks or facial coverings over the nose and mouth when in public places, keeping a minimum safe distance of 6 feet from other people, avoiding large gatherings and frequently washing hands and sanitizing surfaces."

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said at the start of Monday's City Council meeting that the Greater Dalton area is "seeing signs of a resurgence" of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Whitfield County has had 6,783 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 75 deaths, with 1,002 cases reported in the past two weeks, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the state Department of Public Health. In Georgia, there have been 391,466 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8,496 deaths attributed to the virus.

In a statement on behalf of the council, Pennington noted that the council has mandated that everyone entering a city building must wear a mask and continued to uphold that mandate.

"We all still need to take steps to protect ourselves and others from the virus," Pennington said. "Those actions include, but are not limited to, wearing masks or facial coverings over the nose and mouth when in public places, keeping a minimum safe distance of 6 feet from other people, avoiding large gatherings and frequently washing hands and sanitizing surfaces."

"We urge the people of Dalton to take this seriously and wear your masks and keep your social distancing up. This isn’t a political issue — it’s about public health and keeping our economic recovery going," Pennington said.

Dalton resident Shannon Bearfield wanted the council members to do more.

"Those are all great recommendations," she said. "But that is not enough. ... Six hospitals in the area have asked that we do a mask mandate to help them, especially through the holidays. I think we all know this is going to get worse through Thanksgiving and Christmas with people gathering together. The least we can do is help our hospitals through that time."

City Attorney Gandi Vaughn said Gov. Brian Kemp's executive order allowing local mask mandates contains about a dozen exemptions or provisions that allow businesses and others to opt out of those mandates. Council members have expressed concern that those provisions would make any mandate they pass difficult to enforce and create confusion.

"I am strongly in favor of masks," said council member Annalee Harlan. "I am equally in favor of social distancing, but I realize that is difficult when people are congregating, when people are worshipping, when children are in school. The health community has been very clear on the importance of masks and social distancing. It has been very clear that masks are important when you can't practice social distancing and are indoors."

Harlan said she could not support a mask mandate that could not be enforced.

Council member Tyree Goodlett said he would "like to find a way to make people safe in public areas. It's like smoking. When we stopped people from smoking in public areas it was better for everybody."

But he said he worried a mandate might be counterproductive.

"A mandate will make some people rebel against it, especially if we can't enforce it," he said.

Council member Derek Waugh agreed.

"I think it can be more productive to encourage people to do the right thing and to demonstrate the right thing than to try to force them," he said.

Asked about the need for a mask mandate, Dr. Zachary Taylor, director of the North Georgia Health District which includes Whitfield County, said, "Wearing a mask in public settings combined with social distancing and good hand hygiene is the most effective strategy available at this time to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in our community. I encourage everyone to protect themselves and those around them by consistently and correctly (covering mouth and nose) wearing a medical or cloth mask. Neck gaiters and bandanas are not effective and are not a substitute for a medical or cloth mask.

"Currently Whitfield County is having a surge in COVID-19 cases greater than the surge we experienced in July. It is imperative that we protect our elderly and medically vulnerable population. I respectfully ask all individuals to wear a mask in public places and for businesses to require their employees and patrons to wear a mask when in their place of business."

• Council members also held public hearings on the possible creation of two new tax allocation districts, or TADs: one on West Walnut Avenue between Market Street and Dug Gap Road and the other on the north Dalton bypass in the area around Pleasant Grove Drive.

Dalton voters in 2014 gave the City Council the authority to create TADs, which are based on the idea that development in an area will increase property values. In effect, the taxes a local government can collect for general purposes inside a TAD are frozen at what the property was worth when it was created. Taxes collected on additional value are dedicated to pay for infrastructure, land, buildings, public artwork or other amenities to attract a developer or developers to that area. That “extra” money does not go into general revenue.

In 2015, the council created two TADs, one covering the downtown business district and the other at the Dalton Mall and the area closely surrounding it.

No members of the public spoke during the public hearing.

• In regular business, council members voted 4-0 to:

• Accept a three-year, $125,560 contract with Spartan Management of Acworth for mowing and landscaping Oak Hill Cemetery, Old Presbyterian Cemetery and West Hill Cemetery, as well as Dalton Municipal Airport and various city Parks and Recreation Department properties.

• Accept a three-year, $36,299.99 contract with Dilbeck Lawn and Landscape Design of Dalton for mowing and landscaping at 13 properties maintained by the Public Works Department, including City Hall, the Public Works Office and the Thornton Avenue/Walnut Avenue island.

• Accept a $73,000 contract with Leonard Brothers Construction of Chatsworth for restrooms at Brookwood Park.

• Accept a $23,000 bid from Pyrotecnico of New Castle, Pennsylvania, for a 20-minute fireworks show at Heritage Point Park on July 4, 2021.

• Renew for one year a $150-an-hour contract with Vaughn to serve as city attorney.

• Approve Dalton Utilities issuing up to $100 million in bonds to upgrade its electrical assets.

Pennington typically votes only in the event of a tie.

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