Oneonta Mayor Vetoes Mask Ordinance

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Earlier this month, the Oneonta Common Council approved an ordinance intended to further tighten state rules that require the wearing of face masks.

The Oneonta Common Council heard public comments on a mask ordinance Tuesday night. (screen capture, Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

The city ordinance was up for public comment Tuesday night. After many attendees expressed opposition over Zoom and in letters, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig vetoed the proposal.

Council members in favor of the ordinance said it would create better mechanisms for law enforcement to uphold state mask mandates. During a council meeting on Oct. 6, Oneonta police chief Douglas Brenner said the process for ticketing offenders is just too complicated.

Herzig said he supports mask-wearing in public, but the ordinance wouldn’t make people any safer.

“I believe the council’s intent on adopting this ordinance was to make local law enforcement of the current New York state law more effective,” Herzig said. “I do not, however, believe that this ordinance will achieve that purpose.”

The ordinance comes after over 700 students at SUNY Oneonta tested positive for COVID-19, the most of any public college in the state.

The ordinance would have applied to all gatherings on public and private property in the city. Many people who commented during the public hearing took issue with the potential effects of the law on private gatherings within their homes.

Only a few people spoke in favor of the ordinance. Oneonta resident Aaron Sanborn-Overby said the decisions people make at home ultimately affect their circle of family, friends and colleagues.

“The things that we need to do—to mask, the simple precautions—they ultimately are not private decisions, even if they happen within the home,” Sanborn-Overby said.

Mayor Herzig, however, said the ordinance wouldn’t place any further restrictions on the people of Oneonta beyond what New York’s public health law already dictates. The state already requires mask-wearing in public whenever people cannot social distance.

The council may override the veto with six votes. The ordinance passed the council, 5-2, earlier this month.