All Mount Carmel aldermen except one agree to new mask policy at meetings

Alderman Jim Gilliam (right) tells Mayor Jennifer Williams (left) that his asthma prevents him from complying to the new mask requirement at board meetings.

Newly-elected Mount Carmel Mayor Jennifer Williams started off the July 23 BMA meeting by recommending the board adopt a new policy requiring masks at their meetings.

Five Aldermen were in agreement with the policy—and voted accordingly. However, Alderman Jim Gilliam claimed that his asthma prevented him from wearing a mask.

Alderman Steven McClain told the board he didn’t feel that masks should be mandated, so he abstained from the vote.

“We should be responsible”

Williams, who is actually a retired nurse who specialized in communicable disease, began the meeting by listing several statistics and new information regarding COVID-19 in the county and region.

“We’ve got a trying time going on right now, and we have lots of cases of COVID-19,” Williams said. “Right now, Hawkins County has 99 active cases (as of July 29, this number had increased to 174) and confirmed total 162 (this number had increased to 254).”

She added, “I think it is really important that we do everything to be safe and take precautions for that. I feel like we should be responsible, and we should protect our neighbors by wearing masks. In that respect, I expect the board to wear a mask, and I would like the board to weigh in on whether or not you want to require masks here at the board meetings.”

She then made a motion that masks be required at the board meetings.

“It’s close quarters, and we do NOT want to bring COVID-19 in here,” Williams said. “I understand that a lot of people feel like it is their right not to wear a mask. But, let’s say that I didn’t wear a helmet and then gave you a brain concussion by not doing that. That’s kind of the same way it works with a mask. By not wearing a mask, you are infecting the person you are next to. It protects them, just like my mask protects you.”

“I ain’t wearing it”

“How can you ask somebody to wear a mask when you can’t even get the six-foot distancing in here?” Alderman Jim Gilliam asked. “That’s the problem. Some people can wear them (masks) and some can’t.”

“Do you have a lung problem that you cannot wear a mask?” Williams asked.

“I’ve got some asthma,” Gilliam replied. “I don’t have a doctor’s slip, and I ain’t getting one. I ain’t wearing it (a mask) either.”

Aldermen express concern for families’ health

“My husband has a lung condition, and, if I bring it (COVID-19) home to him, he’s dead,” Alderman Teresa Mauk said.

“My husband is a bad diabetic and has heart problems,” Vice Mayor Pat Stilwell added. “If I bring it home to him, he’s dead.”

“My wife is a diabetic, and it is a real concern if I take that home to her,” Alderman Garrett White added.

“Well, I am a diabetic too,” Gilliam said.

“Then you should be concerned, too,” White told Gilliam. “We’re wearing a mask for you.”

“I can’t wear them,” Gilliam replied.

“It should be left up to the individual”

“I think it should be left up to the individual,” Alderman Steven McClain said. “I don’t think you should mandate it, but maybe request it.”

“We have tried to request it, and it is still not being complied to,” Williams replied.

Gilliam then noted that there is no state-wide mask mandate, to which several aldermen replied that there is a mask mandate in effect for Hawkins County. County Mayor Jim Lee enacted this county-wide mask mandate that went into effect on July 18. There is also a mask mandate in nearly every surrounding county.

“I guess, to be real about it, we should take this meeting and put it upstairs (into a larger room) where you can get the distance the way that it should be done,” Gilliam said. “Let’s go by the rule.”

“But you still need to wear the mask anyway,” Alderman Wanda Davidson said. “If we don’t set an example and wear one, we can’t ask the people who come into the audience to wear one.”

She also noted that everyone in the audience at that time was already wearing a mask.

In the end, the vote to mandate masks passed 5-2, with Gilliam voting no and McClain abstaining.

After the vote, Williams asked McClain to put on a mask, and he agreed. Gilliam then remained the only individual within the meeting who didn’t wear a mask.