The City Council is moving forward with extending to February a face mask requirement due to expire this month. Prompting the action are three things. First, a pandemic causing serious illness, challenging the ability of our local medial facilities to treat the affected. Second, a widespread belief wearing a face mask and social distancing reduces one’s risk of being a victim as well as being a disease spreader. Third, our community has people who knowingly refuse to social distance, wear a mask, and generally do not recognize government authority in this area, and either deny masks and social distancing are efficacious or have concluded the side-effects of masks and social distancing outweigh the benefits. Some have urged letting the pandemic run its course. That will create herd immunity in the population and end the threat. There is reason in thinking the damage being done to the economy is worse than the disease itself. Governments worldwide, recognize this. They seek a balance between preserving as much as possible of pre-pandemic life while acting when the pandemic accelerates its destruction of health and lives. To my mind the City Council is seeking such balance.
Two public spirited persons, Riley Flack and Marc Trotter, have voiced opposition. They appear to have support from county employees. If I am wrong, I apologize. Even our President seems on their side. From what the News Press said the Flack-Trotter position is based in part on the writings of Tom Paine. Paine argued “ordinary people can indeed make sound judgments on major political issues, and that there exists a body of popular wisdom that is readily apparent to anyone. ... common sense could refute the claims of traditional institutions.” Flack and Trotter rely also on The Declaration of Independence, a revered document lifted from the 1698-1699 Bill of Rights, itself drawn from John Locke. The key idea is the rights of Englishmen. Subjects owe obedience and loyalty but only if the monarch honors the ancient rights of Englishmen. When the monarch so fails, subjects have the right to overthrow that monarch.
In harmony with this thinking, Flack and Trotter have taken steps to remove the city council through a vote of the people. That will take time. One way or another, the people may decide through apathy or conviction to retain the Council as it is. Then what? Meanwhile, what?
Currently, our elected City Council is mandating measures which will withstand legal challenge. Other municipalities are doing nothing, the same thing, or something else. Is it the position of Flack and Trotter, and like-minded persons, that they maintain the right to defy a legal ordinance? Do they think they have the right to defy the ordinance if the people fail to remove the council? Such puts them in the outer ambit of Tom Paine’s popular wisdom and common sense; John Locke’s surrender of some personal independence in exchange for benefits of membership within a polity.
Should Stillwater have a recall election, what is the issue? I hope it is not about the right of the City Council to enact legal requirements for persons. Farm animals on lawns, fire off guns anywhere, burn leaves in the street ... If the issue is the wisdom of masks and social distancing, John Locke and Tom Paine are not helpful.
Bob Darcy is a retired OSU Political Science and Statistics professor.