Honesdale says ‘no’ to mask mandate

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/25/22

HONESDALE, PA — The pandemic era’s well-trod debate over whether mask-wearing is a matter of public responsibility or personal choice came to Honesdale Borough Council at its meeting on …

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Honesdale says ‘no’ to mask mandate

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HONESDALE, PA — The pandemic era’s well-trod debate over whether mask-wearing is a matter of public responsibility or personal choice came to Honesdale Borough Council at its meeting on January 17.

At the council’s previous meeting, the members voted unanimously to leave the Irving Cliff star lit until February as a symbol of thanks to Wayne Memorial Hospital’s employees, who have been overwhelmed by the latest surge in cases. Some councilors felt that requiring masks for themselves and the public during meetings would be a more tangible show of support.

Council President James Hamill introduced the topic warily, asking the councilors to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of mandating a face-covering requirement for themselves and members of the public during in-person, public meetings. He said he was “uneasy” with the proposal but felt that ultimately his sense of “duty” to mitigate the spread of the virus outweighed his desire to offer maximum personal choice.

“I know that this is a new iteration of council, but it’s still the same pandemic… with COVID-19 cases surging locally, nationally, it is a question that we should ask ourselves as council whether or not we want to require ourselves [to wear masks],” Hamill said. “I know that this can sometimes—and certainly hope not all times—be a very difficult situation because of personal preference, but I hope that everybody here can discuss the merits of a masking requirement for these meetings until COVID-19 were to abate.”

Councilor David Nilsen immediately opposed the idea, saying it’s a matter of personal freedom.

“I wear it, personally, because of my own situation,” he said. “But I wouldn’t push it on somebody else.”

Councilor Jared Newbon, who was not wearing any face covering, said that it was an individual choice to wear a mask or not.

“To be honest with you, I probably would have had a mask on tonight, had I not seen that somebody was going to tell me to do it,” he said. “And I think other people are going to have that same feeling.”

Councilor James Jennings said that he felt it was a matter of respect for the hospital workers.

“[The hospital] recommends masks, they recommend social distancing… I think out of respect for the hospital, I would take their advice,” Jennings said. “I’m boosted, I have my vaccines… but I know I can spread [the virus]… I don’t want to spread it to anybody, and I don’t want anybody from the public spreading it to me.”

Councilor Mike Augello pointed out that, based on the discussion, it was clear that all but Hamill and Jennings were likely to vote no on the potential policy. With that in mind, the idea was dropped with no motion nor vote.

How early is too early?

Earlier in the meeting, a conversation was sparked over morning trash collection, a topic that proved trickier than expected.

Prior to reading the police report, mayor Derek Williams said that some residents have been complaining that garbage trucks in town have been performing their noisy pickups outside of people’s homes quite early in the morning. The borough code states that trucks are supposed to make their rounds between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Nilsen confirmed that he hears trucks “every Thursday, 5 o’clock in the morning.”

“I talked to the chief [of police] about it a little bit, and he suggested that without [an officer] necessarily on duty to do anything about that… maybe a letter from council or a letter from the mayor’s office to each individual hauling provider would be a good way to put them all on notice that we have these rules,” Williams suggested to the councilors.

The council nearly left the suggestion at just that and moved on with the police report, before borough secretary/manager Judith Poltanis cut in to confirm with Hamill, “So, are you going to allow [the mayor] to send a letter then, or does council want to send a letter?”

Nilsen said that the local garbage companies have been “reprimanded in the past” and that the response they’ve given to the police department is “‘we’ll do better,’ but then they don’t.” He doubted the efficacy of sending letters unless there are going to be any repercussions for making pickups prior to 7 a.m.

Augello questioned whether the 7 a.m. rule was something that the companies could even feasibly follow.

“Honestly from their perspective, the time they have to do all the rounds they have to make in their coverage area, they’d probably just leave the community rather than abide by the rules,” he said. “In most areas, garbage pickup is like 4 or 5 in the morning across the country; that’s just normal. Our rules are probably unaligned.”

The councilors came to an agreement that it would be best to take a more collaborative tone with the local garbage collectors—understanding the bind they’re in to complete their rounds in a timely fashion—rather than strictly enforcing a potentially unreasonable ordinance. Newbon even left the door open to changing the borough’s own ordinance if necessary.

Williams agreed to send a letter from the mayor’s office to the local collectors, asking how the two can work together toward a solution.

Budget and grants

The council later had to attend to its 2022 budget, which had been reopened at the previous meeting. Since then, some monies have been shifted around. While discussing various grant funding opportunities that the borough has been pursuing, a few councilors opined that Honesdale does not have an employee whose sole job is to search for grants and write the applications.

“So right now, the borough of Honesdale doesn’t have a grant writer and we [just apply] when things pop up?” Nilsen asked. “We should have somebody here that’s just looking all day online for things that we qualify to get funds to the borough to improve the lives of everybody here.”

Hamill agreed, “Especially with so many different projects that we want to complete for our citizens, let alone the massive amount of money that is available.”

Borough secretary Judith Poltanis told the councilors that the borough’s existing grant committee might benefit from having a meeting with a consulting firm called Hailstone Economic, with whom they have an existing agreement through the Wayne County government. According to its website, Hailstone Economic is a Scranton-based, women-owned consulting firm “that offers strategic insight, leadership, analysis and planning, and connections to promote successful implementation of complex projects that create resilient, flourishing communities.” The firm assisted Wayne and Pike counties in distributing millions of dollars in federal CARES Act to hundreds of local businesses last year.

“I strongly recommend that the grants committee meet with the Hailstone group. I think it is an opportunity that should not be wasted with the amount of information they would be able to provide,” she said. “It is an intensive six-to-eight-hour interview, and then they come back with a proposal… And they do it as a free service. I think both sides would learn.”

Edited to correct a quote from Jared Newbon.

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