Minutes after a change in party control went into effect in the Cayuga County Legislature, lawmakers on Saturday voted on their intention to reverse the county’s stance on implementing the order. wearing the state indoor mask.
A vote on the issue came after the legislature also chose new leadership by making newly-elected Republican lawmaker David Gould, the former county sheriff, the president for 2022. He replaces Democrat Aileen McNabb-Coleman, who occupied the seat the two previous years.
The November general election results transferred control of the 15-member body from the Democrats to the Republicans. After newly elected and re-elected lawmakers were sworn in and leadership votes were taken, the GOP majority backed a motion to overturn McNabb-Coleman’s decision, announced on December 14, that the county would implement the state’s temporary mask mandate.
Independent lawmaker Andrew Dennison introduced the motion to apply the mask, and Republican Lydia Patti Ruffini seconded it before the vote. A resolution on the mask policy was not put on the publicly posted agenda for Saturday’s meeting.
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Conservative lawmaker Hans Pecher and Republican lawmakers Gould, James Basile, Chris Petrus, Robert Shea, Mark Strong and Michael Didio joined Dennison and Ruffini in supporting the motion. Democratic lawmakers Heidi Nightengale, Elane Daly, Christina Calarco, Brian Muldrow and McNabb-Coleman all voted against the motion. Independent lawmaker Tricia Kerr also voted no.
The vote against enforcement of the state mask ordinance comes amid an increase in COVID-19 cases across the state and country. In Cayuga County, the health department reported on Friday it had more than 500 residents with the new confirmed cases of the virus, a volume that is overwhelming the isolation and quarantine monitoring process.
The state mask requirement for public indoor spaces was announced on December 13 by Governor Kathy Hochul as a measure to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 fueled by the new omicron variant. With a record number of daily cases continuing into the new year, the governor said on Friday she was extending the mask’s term of office from Jan.15 to Feb.1.
But the application of the mandate is largely left to the discretion of each county, and many have chosen not to apply it. McNabb-Coleman announced on Dec. 14 that Cayuga County would enforce the ordinance, but it would take an approach that includes educating business owners without citing them for a first violation.
In a telephone interview on Saturday night, Gould said the motion approved at the meeting did not immediately change the county’s approach because it was not a binding resolution. He expects a formal proposal to go through the legislative process this month.
The new president also said Saturday’s vote was not a signal the county was now against wearing a mask.
“I think people should wear masks – I know I do,” Gould said. “We’re only talking about enforcement and imposing that on companies and imposing fines on them.”
In addition to installing Gould, who represents District 5 of the legislature spanning the towns of Aurelius and Fleming, as president, the legislature appointed newly elected Republican lawmaker Basil as vice-president. Basil represents District 1, which includes Sterling and Victory.
Didio, a Republican lawmaker from Auburn in the middle of his third and final term, has been appointed majority leader. Nightengale, a Democratic lawmaker in the middle of her first term, was chosen to be the minority leader.