Council passes first reading of ordinance to extend mask mandate

Beau Simmons/Stillwater News Press The Stillwater City Council met Monday at the Stillwater Community Center, using the extra space of the Winfrey Houston Theater to social distance. 

The Payne County Election Board is still in the process of verifying signatures submitted by the proponents of a set of petitions aimed at forcing a recall election for all five members of the Stillwater City Council.

Unite Stillwater organizers Riley Flack and Marc Trotter said their group has enough signatures on each individual petition to recall every member of the council.

The group accuses the councilors of willful failure to diligently and faithfully perform their duties based on emergency orders enacted by Mayor Will Joyce that restricted the operation of businesses and public facilities and an ordinance passed by the entire council that requires people to wear face coverings in public.

The Council has since extended the mask ordinance, which originally sunset Nov. 30, through Feb. 28.

The measures were adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19 during a global pandemic but Flack and Trotter say the Council is an example of government overreach and the erosion of personal liberties, which must be protected at all costs.

Unite Stillwater collected 530-540 signatures on each petition, well above the 416 signatures required, they said.

The petitions were turned in to the City of Stillwater on Nov. 9 and the City has 30 days from that date to determine whether they meet the threshold.

If they do and no other challenges are launched, the City Council would be obligated to call for an election as early as Feb. 9.

At that point, voters would determine whether each councilor, including the mayor, should be retained in office. There would not be other candidates to choose from on the ballot.

City Attorney John Dorman has said he does not know what would happen if the entire council were removed from office.

“I don’t believe that has ever happened before,” Dorman said.

It’s also not something the city charter addresses.

The Council has already scheduled an election Feb. 9 for the seat currently held by Vice Mayor Pat Darlington. Filing begins Dec. 7 and ends Dec. 9 in that race. The recall election could be held in conjunction with that election, which would make it less expensive for the city. 

If there is a delay, the next statutory election date available would be April 6.

The City Clerk’s office is working with the Payne County Election Board, which checks signatures against its records to ensure they are from registered voters who live within the Stillwater city limits.

The Election Board is still in the process of doing that, staff member Courtney Callison told the News Press on Wednesday afternoon.

It has been given a Dec. 4 deadline to complete that task and return the petitions to the City Clerk, she said.

Although she doesn’t have numbers to provide at this point, Callison said so far most of the signatures appeared to be registered voters residing in Stillwater. But it would be easy for someone to sign it without realizing they don’t technically live within the city limits, she said.

Flack and Trotter said many people who didn’t qualify to sign because they lived outside Stillwater had stopped to inquire about the petitions, enough that they wished they had a separate petition to express the views of people who don’t live in Stillwater, but do business there.

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