Last Wednesday, August 18th, I attended the county commissioners' meeting to witness the installation of a new member of the library board of trustees. When I arrived, I was both surprised and interested to see a fairly large public showing in the gallery. Over the next hour, I listened to about 10 people speak out in public comment about a variety of concerns--mostly asking the commissioners to take a public stand (pass an ordinance) against the governor’s mask mandate; against mandatory vaccinations, and calling for a declaration of Churchill County as a “constitutional county.” For the most part, the speakers recognized that all of these actions would be symbolic. As I understand it, a symbolic declaration is one that is not actually able to be enforced, and would not stand up to any sort of judicial review.
I am not here to engage in an argument or discussion about the efficacy of masks or vaccines. Nor do I really want to talk about whether or not our governor (and a number of other governors) have the authority under the constitution to issue a mask mandate. I am not a constitutional scholar or an epidemiologist--nor is anyone who spoke in public comment last week, though that did not impede the invocation of the constitution and lots of talk about individual rights. I do feel it is important to note that mask mandates have stood up as constitutional in a variety of courthouses around the country (mostly supported by the 10th amendment and time, place, and manner restriction allowances in the 1st amendment)--but again, that is a conversation for another time and place.
The concern that I have about what I witnessed on Wednesday is rooted in the concept of mob rule. First, I understand that there are many angry people in our community right now. Some people are angry because they perceive that their rights are being infringed upon. Others are angry because they perceive that their friends and neighbors value their right to not wear a mask over spreading disease. Second, I understand that angry people want to have their voices heard and to be validated. For the first group of angry people, it is understandable that they petition those who serve in elected office. The second group of angry people don’t have as clear a path to being heard and validated--who do they petition with a call for compassion and their expression of frustration at what they are experiencing.
On Wednesday, many of the speakers told the commissioners “You work for Us!” I am here to remind everyone, that our commissioners have been elected to represent ALL of Churchill County’s residents--those that believe that a mask mandate is government overreach AND those who believe that wearing a mask is a reasonable measure (and a simple ask) to prevent the spread of disease during a public health crisis. Our commissioners are here to provide sound governance and to do the important work of keeping our county on track for everyone who lives here. Their job is absolutely NOT to succumb to the loudest, angriest voices in the room.