Chandler mask policy welcomed, criticized The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler mask policy welcomed, criticized

Chandler mask policy welcomed, criticized

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Chandler’s new mandatory-mask policy didn’t have much impact on local businesses like Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants.

The long-time, family-owned business had already been requiring its employees to wear face masks when they reopened its Chandler location in early June.

CEO Ric Serrano said the recent mask proclamations passed by cities across the Valley haven’t changed how his restaurants operate and only remind customers that they’re expected to wear a mask whenever they’re not seated at a table.

“Restaurants are in a unique position since you can’t wear a mask while eating and drinking,” he noted. “That’s why the social-distancing practices we’ve put into place – like spaced out seating, reduced capacity and comprehensive table sanitization after each party – remain important.”

Other local restaurants, like Ginger Monkey and SanTan Brewing Company, were also already requiring staff to cover their faces well in advance of the city’s decision to mandate mask-wearing in public places.   

Schools, businesses and public facilities across Chandler have spent this last week adopting new masking requirements intended to curb Arizona’s rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The City of Chandler officially adopted its mask proclamation on June 19, the same day the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors passed a similar edict for the whole county.

Shortly after Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe announced mask mandates in their cities, Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke decided he wanted to follow suit by authorizing a similar edict that would hopefully reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“It makes no sense to do anything that is so out of step with our neighbors,” Hartke said during a special council meeting on June 18.

The mayor amended Chandler’s existing emergency proclamation, which was issued in March, to include language that encourages everyone over age 6 to wear a mask whenever they’re unable to keep themselves from others at a safe distance.

The proclamation further asks local businesses to require staff and customers to wear masks.

The city is not looking to throw anyone in jail for not wearing a mask, Hartke said, so the proclamation’s language has a limited enforcement aspect to it.

Chandler Police Department said it would likely take an educational approach to how it would enforce any mask-wearing proclamations meaning officers would remind and advise residents to comply rather than issue a citation.

But some Chandler restaurant owners were confused by the city’s requirement and begged officials for clarification.

The owner of one restaurant emailed city officials June 19 about a patron without a mask threw a chair and walked out without paying his bill when a waiter asked him to put on a face covering.

“How do you want restaurants to address this?” the owner asked “Are we supposed to FORCE people to wear one? Walk around the restaurant and keep every individual in check? Give us some guidance on this, please.

“Some customers are taking this out on my staff, walking out on them, not tipping them and yelling at them. My manager told me she was yelled at multiple times.”

Chandler Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Terri Kimble also emailed city officials there, noting one section of Hartke’s proclamation said anyone over 6 “shall” wear a mask while the next section said it was voluntary.

She said her only response was the proclamation.

Rick Heumann, one of the City Council candidates, chastised the city’s leadership for waiting longer than most other Valley cities to decide whether to issue a proclamation.

“We are now more concerned about politics than our citizens,” Heumann wrote in a Facebook post. “It is time for the mayor and council to act and do their jobs. Stop waiting for others to act.”

The public’s interest in finding out how Chandler would approach the mask issue was been immense last week.

Council has received hundreds of emails from concerned residents and thousands of spectators tuned in to watch the mayor’s special meeting on Thursday with other council members.

Hartke acknowledged the opposition but he said he’s trying to make decisions based on the advice offered by health experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before Thursday’s meeting, Chandler had been attempting to display a positive message that the city was open again for business.

But a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases quickly reversed the city’s attitude. According to data being tracked by the Chandler Fire Department, the city saw a 27-percent jump in COVID-19 cases and the figures are estimated to go up again by 33 percent in the near future.

Before Hartke issued the proclamation, City Manager Marsha Reed said she recently required all city employees to wear a mask while on duty or during interactions with the public.

Councilman Matt Orlando expressed an urgency for the city to not further delay any action on issuing a mask-wearing proclamation. The large majority of residents have emailed the Council asking for this type of action, he said, so it’s up to the council to comply.

“We’re hesitant to say what the residents are asking us to do,” Orlando said. “When this is over, these residents are going to look at us and they’re going to say ‘What did you do to protect me and my family?’”

Vice Mayor Rene Lopez rebutted Orlando’s argument, disagreeing that Council should make policy decisions based on how many emails it gets from the public. This proclamation cannot become a “slippery slope” that starts criminalizing minor infractions, he said, adding: 

“Simply because we may not do exactly what you want doesn’t mean we’re not listening.”

Councilman Mark Stewart agreed that any proclamation could become a “slippery slope” for violating the personal rights of citizens.

The city needs to push back when the “authoritarians” come to take the people’s liberties, Stewart said, so the last thing the city needs is to have law enforcement start citing and arresting residents for not wearing masks.

“We need more self-governance, we need more responsibility to one another and we need less bickering and fighting on Facebook,” Stewart said.

During the June 18 public meeting, Orlando was the only councilman seen wearing a mask during the council’s discussion. But by June 22, three more members joined Orlando by wearing a mask during their regular meeting.

On June 24, the Chandler Unified School District matched the city’s actions by passing a new policy that will require all its staff and K-12 students to wear masks when they start the new school year on Aug. 5.

The district plans to allow some exemptions to the mask-wearing rule for students with certain disabilities.

If a student shows up to school without a mask, the district said they will contact the child’s parents and distance them from other students until a mask is provided.    

Chandler’s teachers have been split on the issue of mandatory mask-wearing inside the classroom. A recent survey of 3,700 district employees found that 53 percent of respondents did not think staff should have to wear masks on campus at all times.

But 95 percent of employees said they’ll follow whatever policy is set by the district.

Barbara Mozdzen, president of the CUSD Governing Board, acknowledged the many parents who may not want their child wearing a mask at school, but she was in favor of implementing such a mandate until the COVID-19 pandemic starts to subside.

“It does help stop transmission between people,” she said, “It makes a difference.” 

The school board further granted Superintendent Camille Casteel the power to quickly adjust the district’s new mask policy as the pandemic’s impacts continue to change and develop.

Comments are closed.