Stilwell stops short of citywide mask mandate
Cherokee Nation citizen Bill Woods, of Stilwell, argues in favor of a citywide mask mandate on Nov. 16 at the Stilwell Community Building. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Joe Fletcher, owner of Okie Joe’s BBQ in Stilwell, make a case against a citywide mask mandate Nov. 16 during a special meeting of the City Council. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL – A proposed citywide mask mandate in Stilwell morphed into a lesser “recommendation” by the end of a two-hour special meeting on Nov. 16.
The Stilwell City Council approved an ordinance that recommends – rather than requires – masks be worn within the city of 4,000.
“My biggest concern with this whole deal is I do not want another shutdown,” Councilor and Cherokee Nation citizen Lane Kindle said.
Citing a “local emergency,” Mayor Jean Ann Wright on July 8 announced a face mask order in effect for “every person working, living, visiting or doing business in the City of Stilwell.” Later in July, however, the Council – with two members absent – shot down an official mask mandate 2-1. Kindle cast the lone “yes” vote.
This time, there were four councilors in attendance. The fifth, Joe Adair, was out with COVID-19, city leaders said.
The lawmakers unanimously agreed to replace the word “require” with “recommend” in the proposed mask ordinance, which expires Jan. 6. They also agreed to adopt restaurant-related COVID rules imposed earlier in the day by Gov. Kevin Stitt. The rules include a mandatory 6 feet between tables or the use of dividers.
The Nov. 16 special meeting attracted more than 30 residents, business owners and medical professionals.
Restaurant representatives argued against a mask mandate. CN citizen Joe Fletcher, owner of Okie Joe’s BBQ, was admittedly “fired up” over the prospect.
“People today have told me that if we enforce masks at Okie Joe’s, they will no longer come, they will go somewhere else,” he said. “People in this room said because I don’t enforce masks now, you take your business to Arkansas. That’s the dilemma I’m in. I’m passionate about it because my livelihood is on the line.”
Mask proponents, like CN citizen Bill Woods, 64, urged the city to adopt a mandate to combat COVID-19.
“I’ve buried a lot of friends and relatives that have had this,” he said. “If you’ll just stop, kind of look around at the crowd here, you’ve got quite a few elders here. I’m also one that has heart problems, so I’m high risk. I’ve got my family at home. I’ve got grandchildren. You know what, I’d like to be around long enough to see them grow up.”
City leaders also heard from infectious disease specialist Dr. Gitanjali Pai.
“My home is in Stilwell, my heart is in Stilwell and I’m here because I care about the community,” Pai said. “Science has proved beyond doubt that masks work. Masks not only protect us from others, but also protect others from us.”
Nearly half of Stilwell’s population is Native American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. weighed in on the city’s mask proposal via a letter to the mayor.
“The use of protective masks is one of the most effective measures an individual can take to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19,” wrote Hoskin, who has also called on Stitt to implement a statewide mask mandate.