WEST ALEXANDRIA — Council discussed CARES spending, enforcement of state-ordered mask mandates, and legislation to combat drug offenses in the village during its regular monthly meeting Monday, Nov. 16.
West Alex and other area villages voted to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds in August. Council president Ashley Myers suggested using a portion of the award to create a Utility and Housing Relief Fund to help village residents pay past-due bills incurred due to COVID-19 in September, and council voted unanimously to encumber approximately $35,000 for that purpose on Sept. 23.
Gretchen Cline, who volunteered to serve on a three-person committee to administer the relief fund, reported on Monday that the committee had only received two applications, however, leaving $28,600 still unclaimed. Council promptly voted to remove that money from the relief fund in order to be used for other purposes.
“We tried,” council member Dan Utsinger said.
Enforcement of mask mandates
Local business owner Sherry Foster addressed council about state-ordered health mandates, namely ones requiring businesses to ensure that customers comply with face-covering policies or risk being cited. Foster owns Kierston’s Coffee Stop, located at 12 S. Main St in West Alex.
“I’m here to see if I have your support in allowing my customers to still make their own decisions,” Foster said. “Would I have your support if I left that up to my customers still?”
Foster, who was among the few attendees at Monday’s meeting not wearing a mask, said she had posted a sign informing customers about the mask mandate, in accordance with state law, but that the notice had since been taken down.
“There’ll be a new one up tomorrow that states that the governor has required that we put a mask requirement sign up, but my business is not going to enforce your ability or inability to wear a mask,” Foster said. “We’re not going to discriminate against religious values.”
According to The National Law Review, civil rights legislation often cited to support “religious exemptions” to mask mandates was put in place to prevent religious-based discrimination against employees, and does not confer any protection for customers of such establishments.
Foster also raised the issue of mandates restricting public gatherings of more than 10 people.
“People have business meetings at the coffee shop, and small group meetings. We had a birthday party on Saturday,” Foster said. “I feel that we can social distance, so I’m trying to figure out where the Village of West Alex is with enforcing that type of mandate.”
Councilman Zach Shafer stated that members of an Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation task force established by Gov. Mike DeWine will be the ones enforcing the mask mandate. This was confirmed by EMS Chief Tom Smith.
Chief Tony Gasper reiterated that police would not be involved in enforcing mask mandates.
“Police are not going to be mask patrol,” Gasper said. “That’s for the Health Department. That’s not a criminal offense.”
Village Solicitor Aaron Glasgow was more cautious, however.
“The village can’t tell you that they won’t enforce the law as written,” Glasgow said. “They can tell you that there might be other agencies that have a stronger interest in enforcing it, but the village is not going to tell you that it will or won’t enforce a particular law.”
When asked if the mask mandate constituted a state law, Glasgow advised Foster to speak with her own attorney.
Council once again debated passing a “use nuisance ordinance” that would penalize landlords in the village whose tenants are repeatedly cited for drug-related offenses. Council voted not to move forward with the legislation during its regular monthly meeting Monday, Oct. 19.
Though council approved the first two readings of the ordinance during previous meetings, council members Myers, Holly Robbins and Shannon Smith voted not to approve the third reading, which would have been followed by a motion to adopt if passed. Councilmen Utsinger, Shafer and Geoff Justice voted to approve; Mayor Jeff Hickey broke the resulting tie with his own “no” vote.
Myers and Robbins again took issue with the inclusion of “barking dog” and other noise complaints in the ordinance, as well as with landlords not being brought into the process until several offenses have already taken place.
“I’m not against having an ordinance like this; I just think it needs to be better,” Robbins said.
West Alexandria Village Council meetings take place the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the village EMS office, located at 8 Marty Lane.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish