Eutaw City Council approves ordinance for wearing face masks in public to reduce spread of coronavirus

By: John Zippert,

After a contentious debate, the Eutaw City Council voted 4 to 2, at its regular meeting on June 23, to support an ordinance requiring people to wear masks when they are in public in the city. The ordinance was supported by Mayor Steele and Councilmembers: Latasha Johnson, Bennie Abrams and LaJeffrey Carpenter; it was opposed by Joe Lee Powell and Sheila Smith.
Mayor Steele argued, “We are passing this ordinance to encourage people to protect themselves and others from spreading the virus. Just like the ordinance to prohibit larger group gatherings, we are going to limit enforcement efforts, but we want people to know the value and benefits of face coverings to reduce the spread of the virus. We want our citizens to respect each other and care for their health.”
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson said, “Based on my experience as a nurse, I know that face coverings will help save lives. Other cities in Alabama, like Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, have adopted similar ordinances on masks and we should do this in Eutaw, to protect our people.”
Councilman Joe Lee Powell argued, “ We do not know if masks are really effective in stopping COVID-19. This is an unfair requirement to impose on people. We are asking poor people to buy face coverings. We should use some of the $147,000 we received in CARES money from the State of Alabama to provide masks, if we pass this ordinance.”
Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter said, “ I have been hospitalized for several weeks with COVID, so I know it’s serious impact. If we allow people to get a warning ticket for their first offense and then start fines, I will vote for the ordinance.”
The ordinance was amended with Carpenter’s suggested change and approved by a vote of 4 to 2.
The Mayor proposed another ordinance to prohibit electronic bingo gaming within the city limits of Eutaw. He said that he had learned that a group was exploring the use of the closed gas station across from the Love’s Truckstop for a bingo parlor and did not feel this was a good idea.

Under questioning from the Council members, the Mayor did not reveal the identity of the group or whether they had a licensee to operate bingo in Greene County. The Council voted to table this matter until more information was available.
The Council had a lengthy discussion of putting out bids for storm shelters within the city. Councilman Powell argued that funds were available for two shelters, one in Branch Heights and one on Boligee Street. Councilwoman Johnson stated that ”The houses in Branch Heights are brick and better protected against storms. The shelters should be built in areas where people are living in trailer homes, that are most vulnerable to tornadoes and storms.”
Other council members said that five shelters were needed, one in each district. Mayor Steele said he was seeking Federal funds from FEMA and other agencies for storm shelters. Councilwoman Smith suggested using the old National Guard Armory as a storm shelter but others said it would need to be extensively fortified to serve as a shelter.
The Council approved a motion by Powell and Carpenter, “to bid out storm shelters, with at least two, one in Branch Heights and on Boligee Street, utilizing existing funds in the Branch Heights, Capital Improvements account and other accounts of the city.”

In other actions, the Eutaw City Council:

• Selected Mattie Atkins, former Circuit Clerk, to be Elections Manager for the August Municipal Elections. The qualifying fees were set at $50 for Mayor and $25 for City Council candidates.

• Passed a Memorial Resolution honoring James (Jamie) Oliver Banks II, who recently died, for his contributions to the city as the owner of Banks and Company and his role in selling the land to Love’s for the location of their truckstop.

• Forwarded a number of claims against the City, most from residents of Raintree Apartments about sewage problems, to the City Attorney and insurance company for resolution.

• Agreed to restore the speed bums in King Village, now that the streets are repaved.

• Advertise for bids to repave M& M Drive.

• Tabled a resolution for hazard pay bonuses for all city employees until the Council could get more clarity from the State of Alabama on the use of $147,000 in CARES funds awarded to the City for the coronavirus pandemic.

• Approved payment of bills by the City based on funds available.

• Heard a report from Mayor Steele that the project to extend sewage to the Love’s Truckstop was successfully completed and closed.

• Mayor Steele reported that the Streetscape Project I, with ALDOT funding, to improve the sidewalks and lighting on the outside of the Old Courthouse Square was still moving forward. There were some concerns raised by the Alabama Historic Society in approving the plans but these issues are being resolved by the project engineer. The Mayor said that construction on this project should begin in three to four months.

• Concerns were raised by Council members about various roads and streets in the city in need of repair due to storm erosion and washouts. Mayor Steele said he was working on restoring FEMA funding for these repairs.

The Eutaw City Council set its next meeting for Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at 6:00 PM at the Carver School gym to accommodate more public visitors in a setting where there is room for social distancing due to the pandemic.

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