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Mask Laws: A Look "Behind the Curtain"

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.


"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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