town hall

The Town of Fountain Hills’ continued use of COVID-19 restrictions at town facilities came under fire with comments during “call to the public” at the Nov. 16 regular session of the Town Council.

The town continues to require face coverings for those entering Town Hall and during council and commission meetings. Seating in council chambers is limited to allow for spacing between individuals. Initial COVID restrictions at Town Hall had been lifted early this year but were reinstated after the summer recess, as the number of Delta variant cases began to rise.

Crystal Cavanagh, who has challenged the restrictions previously before the council, called on Mayor Ginny Dickey to lift the restrictions.

Council members are unable to respond to comments made during call to the public due to agenda posting and open meeting laws. Dickey told The Times in an email that staff had already planned to review the restrictions again this week. There has been no comment on changes as of press time.

“What reliable science is this (restriction) based on that shows masks significantly protect from the micro and nano particles of COVID?” Cavanagh said. “Why are masks mandated in our government buildings? There is no such mandate in neighboring communities such as Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. We are not in any more danger than them to justify our mandate.”

In her statement to The Times Dickey said it is her understanding that employees in Paradise Valley still must wear masks. She also said Tempe City Hall remains closed to the public and Maricopa County is requiring masks.

Cavanagh also noted that thousands who attended the Fountain Festival of Arts & Crafts the previous weekend were almost entirely without masks, including one council member who operates a booth at the fair.

“People were assessing their own risks and making their own decisions about whether to wear a mask or not,” Cavanagh said.

She said the public is told they must wear masks in town buildings because the mayor made the decision under the guise of a health and safety emergency.

Cavanagh made a direct request that the mayor stop imposing the mask mandate in town facilities.

“We are no less safe without (masks), and no safer with,” Cavanagh said. “It is time to end this town government control and put the choice back on the people.”

“The decision to continue masks was not mine alone, but was one I fully supported,” Dickey said.

Dickey also provided a portion of an email Cavanagh sent to Town Manager Grady Miller.

“We are certainly not living in an actual local emergency,” Cavanagh stated. “The reality is that requiring masks in these very select town-owned locations is purely virtue signaling. And if the recent laws banning these mandates had not been bundled and passed by putting them in the AZ budget instead of doing single issue bills, she would not be able to choose to do this to the residents of [Fountain Hills]. It is a choice she has made.”

Responding to those comments, Dickey said a reversal of budget bills in the legislature had no impact on the decision.

“It had already been determined that municipalities could require face coverings in their own facilities,” Dickey said.

The mayor also provided her direct response to Cavanagh’s email.

“The notion that wanting masks in public facilities is some kind of enjoyable power trip is your incorrect interpretation of a most difficult decision,” Dickey said. “Virtue signaling is a phony label to deflect the good faith efforts of some that others disagree with and feel they must mock.

“In addition, there are those who ask us to do more: completely stop events and in-person meetings. Some places are still going virtual. There is no one constituency who wants the same thing, and as always, we need to balance that.

“You have the ability to make an already heartbreaking time for many in our community and families even harder or try to get through this united.”