Council passes ordinance requiring facemasks in public

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 3:00pm

After months of lockdown, sheltering-in-place, social distancing and other factors associated with the pandemic, the members of the Town Council found itself in a battle on one more front: island visitors not wearing masks. After a lengthy discussion on Wednesday, June 24, the council passed an emergency ordinance amendment which went into immediate effect requiring everyone on island to wear a mask while in a public place or face a $50 fine.

It was not an easy discussion. Cindy Lasser of the Chamber pushed for it, while Police Chief Vin Carlone said that there were other, more pressing issues, such as an increase in substance abuse, that his department was dealing with. He was also concerned with enforcement issues.

Lasser, who participated in the council’s meeting on Wednesday, June 24, sounded both anxious and frustrated as she described the number of people coming off the ferry and gathering at Old Harbor who were not wearing masks. She said she also has noticed that people, when they enter the Visitor Center, have a little more “edge” in their attitudes about wearing masks than earlier in the season.

Carlone, however, said the town was facing issues on yet another front that are becoming perhaps more serious than even COVID-19 itself. Carlone said he and his officers were witnessing “more mental health issues and substance abuse issues” in numbers that “I have not seen in years.”

Carlone thought the amendment the council was considering to require the wearing of face masks while on the island, which also carried a fine, would pose enforcement issues and take efforts away from the issues he has been seeing.

“We have our hands full with things right now,” Carlone said, calling the issues of substance abuse and others “greater issues that are clear and present right now and I think it’s only going to get worse.”

“Look at what is going on in the country – there’s a very big anti-police sentiment. Look at who’s coming off the boat — it’s all young people, who are mostly involved in this sentiment. We have to evaluate this week by week. We can never do things to incite people… There is no way we can address [this situation with confrontation]. I have been meeting with all the young people on the island, in an effort to talk to them and win them over to our side. We are peaceful officers, we never hurt anybody here, but people are afraid of the police now. I would design an ordinance that educates and wins them over, not in an enforcement situation,” added Carlone.

Town Emergency Co-Director Bill McCombe, who is also the town’s former police chief, had similar thoughts, saying, “police cannot do a custodial arrest… it should be a violation only punishable by a dollar amount. You’re really looking at this to be an educational aspect.”

Second Warden André Boudreau asked if the Town of New Shoreham Police Department will be “rolling with the same amount of officers and state police this summer?”

“We have about the same state troopers, but not until the fourth of July because they are very busy” on the mainland,” said Carlone.

Councilor Martha Ball asked for clarification on the council “if the [amended emergency] ordinance appears to mirror the emergency order of the Governor [Gina Raimondo]?” asked Martha Ball.

“Yes it does – the major difference is the requirement of wearing masks inside of establishments… the other part of it is the town is supposed to be enforcing it,” said Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla.

Risom said the town and the police department should work together to help educate island visitors.

“We would be happy to help anyway we can – educationally and talking to people. I think we need to have a little brainstorm session… and come up with a plan,” said Carlone.

“I think that would be a fantastic idea. It seems to me we are not going to lean on the police force. I would be very interested in having [a conversation] on how to best handle this,” said Boudreau.