City Council members will revisit the idea of requiring masks in public places when the group meets in regular session today.
The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of Lawton City Hall, Southwest 9th and C.
Council members are scheduled to review regulations they put into place in July requiring most residents to wear masks in most instances when they are inside commercial and other structures that allow access by the public. While some exemptions are allowed (those with health concerns and children under the age 6 don’t have to wear them, for example), the ordinance applies to most residents in most public settings. It’s also an idea that has been adopted months ago by multiple entities, to include Fort Sill, Lawton Public Schools and Cameron University.
But, the regulation has critics. A group comprised of Lawton residents and those who live outside the city limits have been vocal in their opposition of the mandate, arguing masks don’t necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19, that it is an unreasonable request by a governmental entity and infringes upon personal liberty, and that local businesses are suffering revenue loss because of the mandate’s effect. The action taken by the full council in July and reviewed in August also is among the complaints some residents have lodged as they try to initiate the process to recall Mayor Stan Booker and Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk.
Supporters say there is demonstrable evidence that masks will help protect against the spread of COVID-19, and there are numerous businesses that say the mandate has encouraged residents to begin using their establishments again. Council members have said residential feedback indicates the majority support masks, and many members of the city’s medical community also support the mandate. Local experts also said the incidents of COVID-19 in the community continue to increase.
Today’s agenda item doesn’t list any recommended action. Rather, it simply states the city’s legal staff is returning the issue to the council floor as the council directed in August. In mid-August, the council had been poised to consider repealing the entire mandate ordinance, but ultimately decided to postpone that discussion until October. The agenda item includes a copy of the ordinance, which could be stricken in its entirety, effective immediately, if the council votes to take that action. The agenda item states that if council members do not repeal the provisions, they may provide direction on further modifications.
In other business, the council will look at launching the process to sell bonds for its next round of street repairs through the 2017 Ad Valorem Road Program.
The Street Improvement General Obligation Bonds would total $4.59 million, with those nine-year bonds paid off by ad valorem revenues. In a program approved by voters in February 2017, the city created a $55.3 million streets improvement program that would be funded with annual ad valorem taxes. Issuing bonds means the entire amount of money is available for immediate expenditure, then gradually repaid through tax revenue.
The program was crafted to provide a specific amount of revenue during each year of the 11-year program. Bids for the bonds in this series will be accepted through 11 a.m. Nov. 10, and will be analyzed by the city’s bond counsel so a recommendation is ready for the council meeting that afternoon.
The council also will consider a new round of change orders in the $34.407 million public safety facility under construction east of downtown Lawton, with that request adding 33 more calendar days to the completion time and more than $100,000 to the cost. Projects included lowering the ceiling above the dayroom landing and detention area ($16,149 and $10,141, respectively) and $11,982 to resolve a sprinkler line conflict.
The project initially had been projected for a late summer 2019 opening date, but that timeline has changed several times since then because of problems, to include days lost to weather, problems created among contractor workers and with supply manufacturing and shipment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and change orders.
Last year, the council directed that all change orders associated with the project, no matter how small, be brought to the council for explanation before action. This latest round of change orders specified the completion date would be Sept. 21, although contractors said earlier this month they were working toward completion by Thanksgiving. City administrators have said it would take weeks for city departments to move into the facility once it is turned over to city control.
In other business, the council will consider:
• Meeting in executive session to discuss a pending investigation under Council Policy 3-3. That policy, which refers to investigations of harassment, designates the mayor as the person to investigate harassment complaints against council members, appointed city officials or employees hired by the council. Today’s initiator is listed as Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren but the original item was submitted by Booker.
• Ratifying the city manager’s acceptance of a $73,000 grant from the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security for a crime analyst position. The two-year grant, which would run through Aug. 31, 2022, would fund a position that would help city police with analysis of criminal intelligence information, suspicious activity reports and open source information to help investigations and identify criminal trends and potential state and federal threats of domestic security. Upon completion of the grant, Lawton would have the option to continue to apply for funding or begin funding the new position itself.
• Approving plans and specifications that would allow the city to begin a new round of residential street improvements: Carroll Drive from Northwest 14th Street to Mobley; Southwest 26th Street from West Gore Boulevard to Cornell Avenue; Cornell Avenue from Southwest 26th to Southwest 27th streets; and Northwest 36th Street, from 10 NW 36th to 40 NW 36th.