When one hears the word kindness, they often think of a thoughtful word or gesture, perhaps an organized service project or even shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk. The newly-established Provo Kindness Initiative wants us all to expand our definition of kindness beyond these single acts and into a culture of kindness that helps us all connect better as neighbors, friends and even strangers.


Provo Kindness launched today with their new website, provokindness.org and a social presence on both Facebook and Instagram. The timing of the Provo Kindness initiative could not be more important as studies report increasing depression rates with one in three adults in the U.S. reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic. In comparison, from January to June 2019, more than one in ten (11%) adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.


Kindness matters now more than ever. We dedicated Fire Station 22 on September 11 with a Patriot Day remembrance for those we lost. During that tribute I was reminded of the unity we felt as a nation after that horrible day and saddened in contrast by the national and local division we feel today. What we learned then and can replicate now is that kindness has the power to unite communities.


The idea is to build community through stories. We want to share stories of a wide variety of Provo residents to help the community understand that we have more in common with one another than the perceived labels that we allow to divide us. We hope to overcome stereotypes and labels and help everyone recognize that we're all on the same team.


By focusing on the overwhelming good in our community, we are hopeful it becomes an online refuge for those of us who need a shot of positivity from time to time. And honestly, who doesn’t during this uncertain and contentious time.


We will accomplish our mission statement by creating community conversations about kindness and the many topics that fall under the “kindness umbrella.” These conversations will happen online and hopefully in people’s homes as they learn more about Provo Kindness through their regular social media posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, on their website, and through information in city communications.


We will also look for opportunities to hold in-person small group conversations. As our reach expands, we hope to be able to survey our community and find other ways to assess the needs in our community. We will then plan specific activities to improve kindness in those areas.


The culture of kindness we hope to foster will be one we all build together with our shared stories and with our shared commitment to do our part to bring kindness back into our city discussions, into our neighborhoods and in our conversations. That’s a win-win cause we can all get behind.

Updated: Sep 10

Recently, I vetoed the City Council’s mask ordinance regarding the wearing of masks within Provo’s boundaries. Although I explained my reasons a number of times leading up to the veto, I continue to receive letters and emails asking me why I did so (as well as many notes thanking me for the veto). So I wanted to take one more chance to explain my reasons. (As you may know, the City Council promptly over-rode my veto making the ordinance law. Now that it is the law, I am committed to upholding that law in good faith.)


I believe the city council members and I have a lot of common ground, including on masks. In my veto letter to the council, I wrote the following:


I believe that you and I have the same destination in our sights: a safe and vibrant Provo through coming months. We also share a desire to see the highest possible rate of compliance with state health guidelines.


Our difference is over the right path to fulfill our desire to get to that destination. You have voted for the new path of a mandate, in the form of a law that requires people in Provo to wear face masks and penalizes noncompliance. My strong preference, and that many others, is that we stay on the path that has brought us this far. Only months ago, no one in Provo was wearing a mask. Today, most Provo residents seem to be compliant with government health guidelines, including guidelines on masks. They have done this without compulsion. And although it is the citizens who deserve the lion’s share of the credit, my staff and I have spent an enormous amount of energy trying to encourage and foster a culture of voluntary compliance with those health guidelines.

As I vetoed the ordinance, here were some of my main concerns with it:

First, to my knowledge not a single major community partner in this valley (besides you as a council) had asked or encouraged me to enter a mask mandate—not a chamber of commerce, not an institution of higher education, not a mayor or legislator or county commissioner. Nor had the local organization that is comprised of health professionals who are charged full time with the mission of monitoring and ensuring the health of the citizens of this area, the Utah County Health Department. On the contrary, several of the above had asked me not to issue a mask mandate. While I greatly value my relationship with the city council members and wish we had been more united on the best means to an end here, I also had my eyes on our relationships with other community partners.

Second, I didn’t want to burden our police officers with this ordinance. In my veto letter, I wrote the following:

Inevitably, this law will lead to calls to our dispatch office asking for enforcement of the mask requirement. In this moment, do we seek more tricky police-citizen encounters, more situations to de-escalate? I place a lot of value on the well-being of our police officers and on their goal to build, not erode, trust with citizens, especially in these already tumultuous times. In the same vein, I worry that the last thing the citizens of this community need right now is anything that would foster a tattle-tale culture over masks.

As we all knew it would, the mask ordinance has indeed led to calls about mask wearing to our dispatch professionals, and our police have been responding to reports of non-compliance. Although our police chief publicly had told the city council he preferred no mask ordinance, he is a professional and is doing his best, in good faith, to enforce the ordinance appropriately.

Third, I believed the right path to a safe and vibrant Provo through coming months was a path that treated citizens as the trustworthy and compassionate partners they are. In their public deliberations, one of the City Council members observed, perhaps a little wistfully, that the culture in Japan is highly accepting of governmental mask mandates, whereas our culture is not. There is truth to that observation. Many Americans, perhaps particularly here in this land of the Freedom Festival, have a “don’t tread on me” bent that any observer knows is alive and well. A significant portion of those who responded to the city council’s survey about the ordinance said they believe a mask mandate is “an extreme overreach of governmental power.” Given that element within our culture, was a mandate the wisest and surest path to a safe and vibrant Provo? And speaking of our culture, I suggested we keep in mind that we were talking about the folks with the highest rate of volunteerism in the nation. Provo residents are good people who, through no compulsion, love to do the right things out of the goodness of their hearts. With the demographic we have here, which path would get us to the highest level of compliance? A law requiring masks or asking and encouraging people to wear them? I believed that the path of educating and encouraging residents was the better path and would lead to higher compliance and a safer and more vibrant Provo than a mask ordinance would.

Interestingly, only days after my veto was overridden, I was sent data collected by the state health department indicating that when masks were “requested” by businesses owners, 93.5% of customers wore a mask. When business owners “required” a mask, 90.62% wore one. That’s not a huge difference and one take away is that Utahns are pretty good about wearing masks when a business either requests or requires them. But it’s also noteworthy that slightly more people wore a mask when one was simply requested than when it was required.

To recap, the city council and I have had the same destination in mind; we differed over the path to get there. Now that a law is on the books requiring the wearing of masks, the police department and I are committed to appropriately enforcing that law. For anyone who felt the ordinance was the wrong approach, I hope you will be civil in your communications with City Council members about it. I hope that each one of us, regardless of where we stand on the mask ordinance, will do our parts to help foster civility and harmony among our neighbors. In my mind, even in challenging times like these, we can’t take our eyes off the goal keeping the culture of Provo positive, welcoming and friendly.


Sincerely,


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Guest Post from Wayne Parker, Provo City Chief Administrative Officer


With all the questions, commentaries, emails, social media posts and passionate voicemails from the last few days, and with the Mayor’s blessing, I wanted to share a “peek behind the curtain” as it were to talk about the Mayor’s decision process regarding the face mask debate and last evening’s ordinance adopted by the City Council. I hope with my take on the process, readers will understand what the Mayor went through to reach her decision to veto the ordinance. She plans to issue a formal statement of her specific reasons for the veto tomorrow.


Having watched Mayor Kaufusi closely over the last three years, I have seen her consistently guided by a philosophy about the role of government, the availability and use of good data and the common-sense approach to enforcement of our laws. Like many mayors I have worked with, she has never taken lightly her role as the chief executive of Provo. She feels keenly her responsibilities to enforce our city code, and sincerely tries to do it with sound judgment and a practical approach.


She frequently comments that Provo is a unique community, filled with residents who want to do the right thing. She generally trusts our residents to make sound decisions that reflect this community’s shared value of concern for each other. She has often talked with the staff about her desire to resist the impulse to legislate or regulate where there is an opportunity instead to educate and motivate.


Mayor Kaufusi has seen the research that masks matter in containing the spread of Covid-19 and our current #MaskUpProvo campaign reflects her support. She also supports the guidance she’s received from our county health department and the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, and she’s spent a great deal of effort trying to encourage everyone to follow that guidance, including the guidance on mask wearing. Up until two weeks ago, the City Council and the Administration were committed to a path forward using education and promotion as the right approach. Under the Mayor’s leadership, we created the #MaskUpProvo campaign using social media and other tools to promote mask wearing, with plans for a rapid escalation of efforts as students return to Provo. Her strong and stated preference is that where education and motivation are making a difference, we should not take the step toward legislation.


The Mayor and the Councilmembers agree on the desired outcome: protecting the public health of our community. They do, however, disagree on principle as to whether a legally enacted mask requirement accomplishes that better than education and appealing to our residents’ best selves in a community like Provo.


She has also worried that given the population in our larger community, Provo acting alone with a legislative solution will not have the impact that we would hope without a countywide requirement. Our local and state health professionals have chosen to not implement broader mask requirements by health order and the concept of getting out of step with them has been troubling to her. She has been in daily contact with Mayors, County Commissioners, and the Utah County Health Department. She has had regular contact with the state task force and the Governor’s office – as late as Monday evening – understanding the direction of our partners and the recommendations from our leading health officials at state and local levels.


Finally, the concerns about enforcement strategy for this ordinance remain fuzzy and undefined. The ordinance has civil penalties attached, which is better than criminalizing non-compliance. But she openly worries a lot about having a law on the books that the legislators feel should not be enforced. What does that say about all the other laws on our books today? Legislating without a willingness to enforce the law seems to the Mayor no more than a message.


Based on these principles – limited government, data and science, and common-sense enforcement – she determined to veto the ordinance. She commented that her preference is and always will be to educate and motivate before we legislate and to trust that the residents of our community will choose to do the right thing when they understand the need.


Below is the statement she prepared last night during the Council’s deliberations. I agree with her that the Council’s process has been a thoughtful one and that they have been listening to public sentiment around this issue. Mayor Kaufusi has no disagreement about the destination – only about the path to get there.


Her statement last night – prepared during the Council discussion after hearing all the public comment – is included below. Hopefully, the combination of my observations about her decision process and the formal statement will inform everyone concerned about her position on the mask issue.


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"Thank you for the concern you have for the welfare of Provo and its residents. I believe you and I are united in desiring to make Provo the best and safest place it can be. We’re also united in our desire to see the highest possible rate of compliance with COVID-19 guidelines provided by the state.

In other words, you and I have the same destination in sight. Where we part is on how to get there, which path to take.

Tonight you have chosen the new path of a mandate, a law on the books that requires citizens to wear masks or face penalties imposed by the government. I favor staying on the path that we have been on until now, a path that I think has been highly effective in implementing a sea change in behavior throughout our city, in a relatively short period of time. Our path so far has emphasized self-regulation and has tried to send a signal to residents that they are trusted and equal partners in this effort. We have implemented a variety of positive educational campaigns to encourage mask wearing. You have helped with those. And the citizens have responded. Through our collective efforts—yours, mine, and the citizens’—Provo has remained in the yellow zone, meaning the level of state restrictions for Provo is low.

I believe that the path towards our destination of greater unity, harmony, and compliance for our city is the path we’re already on. Let’s enhance our campaign. Let’s redouble our efforts. Let’s engage incoming students and help more and more Provo residents choose to wear a mask. I believe that is our path forward, while a law requiring masks would be a step in the wrong direction.

For all these reasons and for other reasons I have shared previously, I respectfully announce my intent to exercise my authority to veto this law. While I am sure the veto is not welcome, I do hope you welcome my early announcement of it, so that you know where I stand. Thank you and I look forward to working with you to get closer and closer to our shared destination."

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