Law enforcement officials say they will take an educational approach to Mayor Bill Ketron’s countywide mask mandate.
Ketron on Monday evening issued a mandate to wear face coverings in public. His order took effect Wednesday and expires at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 3. That is when Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 54 expires. That order gave county mayors the authority to issue mask mandates. Lee has not said if he will extend the order.
The county released a copy of the order on Tuesday afternoon. The order says “it is the hope and expectation” that people will comply and “attempts at education and communication are the preferred methods of obtaining compliance.” The order says state law provides for enforcement by Executive Order 54 and Tennessee Code Annotated 58-2-120; violation is a Class A misdemeanor.
The Murfreesboro Post reached out to officials with every local police jurisdiction as well as Jennings Jones, district attorney general for the 16th Judicial District on whether there would be legal enforcement.
Lisa Marchesoni, public information officer for the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, said, “In situations concerning the mayor’s executive order mandate on masks, it will be the primary responsibility of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office to educate citizens and request that they comply.”
She added, “The Sheriff’s Office deputies believe that reminding citizens of the mandate, educating them in why the order is necessary and simply asking that they comply with the mayor’s order may help them understand that this in in response to an ongoing public health crisis.”
Jones said he echoes the Sheriff’s Office statement and he encourages people to abide by the mayor’s order and wear a mask.
“We will take this as an opportunity to educate folks as to the ongoing epidemic,” Jones said.
Michael Bowen, chief of the Murfreesboro Police Department, said in a statement, “The Murfreesboro Police Department will place an emphasis on educating the public about the importance of wearing face coverings when violations are encountered.”
Anne Smith, public information officer for the City of La Vergne, said “La Vergne police will be be placing an emphasis on educating the public about the importance of face coverings.
Kathy Ferrell, public information officer for the Town of Smyrna, said, “Smyrna personnel, including Police Department personnel, will continue to educate our citizens on the importance of wearing a mask. We will evaluate each complaint/incident on a case by case basis.”
The City of Eagleville did not respond to a request for comment.
When he issued the mandate, Ketron said in a statement that just two weeks before he issued the #RutherfordResponsible initiative. That was when he first had the authority to mandate masks. He chose at that time not to do so but urged businesses to issue their own mandates. Since then, many national retailers with stores in Rutherford County, from Walmart to Kroger to Target have done so as part of nationwide policies.
“We received a lot of support from our local businesses including some of our big box stores,” Ketron said, “but the reality is, some of our citizens and visitors just are not taking this health event seriously enough.”
Ketron’s mandate provides a number of exclusions: anyone under 12; anyone who cannot safely wear a face covering due to trouble breathing due to an underlying health condition or other “bona fide” medical reason; anyone who is incapacitated or unable to remove a covering without help; people in private residences; people who are outdoors, unless he/she cannot maintain 6 feet separation from people outside the household; while eating or drinking; at a place of worship unless that facility requires a covering (masks are recommended); within private vehicles unless it is being used for public transportation; people working when distancing is maintained; people at government facilities must obey that entity’s rules; people at a voting site are exempt but encouraged to wear a mask; people who are exercising, but they must maintain distancing; and “people for whom wearing a face covering would pose a safety or security risk.”
Ketron already required people in all public areas of Rutherford County buildings to wear face coverings, subject to age and health restrictions. Other government entities may make their own regulations, he said.
When Ketron issued the mandate Monday, each of the city mayors provided a quote:
Mary Esther Reed, Smyrna: “The Mayors’ Caucus has been in constant contact about this ongoing health situation and collectively, we have supported the decisions that have been made thus far. Though difficult to make, we hope this decision will help protect our communities and move us in the right direction.”
Shane McFarland, Murfreesboro: “The majority of local health care officials ask the community to wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible. It is important for us to do all that we can to prevent the spread of the virus and avoid another shutdown. So, please cover the nose and mouth whenever you cannot socially distance.”
Jason Cole, La Vergne: “The health and welfare of our citizens is of the upmost concern for us during this pandemic. Masks are an important way to stop the spread and keep us all safe.”
Chad Leeman, Eagleville: “When staying six feet apart is not possible, wearing a mask combined with other protective measures as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can potentially get us back to a state of normalcy in our communities more quickly.”