BURKE — The town’s select board resolved the question of whether to impose a town-wide mask mandate in less than 90 seconds Monday night.
The answer was no.
There was a full agenda for the meeting, taking about two and half hours to work through, but deciding what to do with the state’s directive about implementing a mask mandate at the municipal level was not time-consuming.
Chair Christine Emmons initiated the brief discussion by asking if anyone was in favor of adopting a mandate.
“This resident isn’t and I don’t want to enforce it as a health officer,” said Joe Allard, select board member. “I wouldn’t be able to do it anyways.” said Allard.
He said such a mandate would have little impact on people’s attitude toward mask-wearing.
“When they had the state mandate people weren’t wearing them all over the place,” he said.
Gov. Phil Scott maintains that he will not authorize a mask mandate at the state level, but in a move that he called a compromise with legislative leadership he directed lawmakers to meet and vote on whether to authorize individual cities and towns to mandate masks at a local level.
Towns that adopt a mandate within their borders expect people who enter publicly-accessible buildings in those towns to be masked. This includes town properties or private establishments like stores, restaurants and churches.
It was a move by the governor that some people favored, in that he was making any mask requirement a local choice, but many others saw it as a way for the governor to “pass the buck.”
Burke Select Board members Emmons, Allard and Ford Hubbard spent no time bemoaning or celebrating the fact that the issue was in their hands. They simply saw it as a measure that would have no weight if implemented.
“It’s something that we have absolutely no way to enforce,” said Emmons.
She offered a counterpoint but not one strong enough to even convince herself. “There have been people who have countered with, ‘if the town were to implement the mask mandate and even just one more person wore their mask it would be worth it.’”
In terms of enforcement, Burke business owner Burton Hinton said it would fall to him confront non-mask-wearers. “I’d be the one policing it for people walking in through the store door, and it’s not an argument I want to get into with them,” said Hinton, co-owner of the East Burke Market.
“Or, they’ll drive right by and go to Lyndonville to the Bagel Depot for breakfast instead of stopping in,” he said.
Town Clerk Linda Hackett-Corey said mask-wearing is a personal choice that likely wouldn’t be swayed by a mandate.
“I think if people want to wear their masks, they’re going to, and if they don’t want to they’re not going to,” she said. “And, I can’t argue with them.”
Other than Hinton and a non-resident newspaper reporter, no other member of the public was in Burke Community Building beyond town officials. No one spoke in favor of a mandate.
“So I think we can officially say that the town of Burke is not going to implement a mask mandate,” Emmons said.
Hinton appreciated that conclusion.
“Thank you. It’s not why I came but thank you,” he said.