Horry County leaders respond to criticism over ending mask mandate

Updated: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:30 AM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Members of Horry County Council are responding after confusion over a vote to end the county’s mask mandate.

After what appeared to a ‘ball of confusion' during the council meeting Tuesday night, council members voted against extending its emergency ordinance, which includes the mask mandate.

The mask mandate will expire on Oct. 30, which means face coverings won’t be required inside of some businesses located within the incorporated areas of Horry County. However, face coverings are still required inside of all South Carolina establishments where food is being served by order of Gov. Henry McMaster.

Some municipalities have shared their feelings about Horry County Council not extending the mask ordinance, including Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune.

“The county’s decision will not influence our decision regarding masks. Unfortunately, I think that the county’s decision will confuse people, especially since the governor’s mask order for restaurants is still in place," Bethune said.

North Myrtle Beach Councilwoman Niki Fontana also shared her thoughts on the county not continuing with the mask mandate:

“I’m highly disappointed in our County Council for their decision of not extending the mask ordinance. I feel that as leaders, we need to do what’s right for the community as a whole. We all took oaths when we were sworn into office to protect our communities,” Fontana said.

Members of the community have also weighed in on this topic, some sharing their satisfaction with council’s decision to no longer enforce face coverings.

Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught voted against extending the mask ordinance. He said local leaders are entitled to their opinions, and he wants the community to know he voted against mandating masks, not wearing them.

“I had a problem all along with us following suit with other municipalities creating the mask ordinance,” Vaught said. “I never advocated for people not to wear masks. I just thought council was overstepping it’s bounds by requiring people to wear masks.”

The news about council leaders not extending the mask ordinance came as a surprise to some people because of the recent spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases across the Grand Strand. Now, we’re learning why some council members who previously supported the mask ordinance voted against the mandate.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council first voted on whether to amend the language of the original mask ordinance from masks ‘required’ to masks ‘strongly encouraged.’ That motion passed 10-2.

Council members Bill Howard and Harold Worley voted against changing the language of the original mask ordinance, stating they wanted to extend a mandate that ‘required’ masks be worn and not ‘encouraged.’

“I’m 100 percent for a mask ordinance required until the [COVID] numbers go down,” Howard said. “You don’t drop your guard when it starts going up.”

“We had an amended motion moving forward that I didn’t want because it removed the [required] mask component,” Worley said.

Then came time to vote on the original motion, whether to extend the emergency ordinance, which includes the mask mandate.

“The vote ended 12-0, not to renew the county ordinance," said Vaught.

The results showed 12 votes not in favor of passing the ordinance.

The voting screen reflected 12 red ‘nay’ checks against extending the ordinance. There were zero green ‘yea’ checks that would have otherwise been in support of passing the mask ordinance.

Some council members say in that moment, the vote was a bit confusing, because they weren’t certain if they were voting for the amended motion or the entire ordinance being extended.

“It definitely was not clear, we was all confused,” Howard said.

“I have to go back and hear what the vote was on,” said Councilman Gary Loftus.

Vaught said in that moment, the voting process was crystal clear and knew what motion was on the table.

“[How could] twelve people misunderstood what we were voting for, I have a hard time believing that," Vaught said.

“I’m not sure we all understood that particular vote," said Councilman W. Paul Prince. "I think it should of been a little clearer because it’s very unusual to get 12 of us to vote the same on that particular issue.”

“I think I might of voted no to be on the prevailing side and bring it back up again,” Loftus said.

Worley says some of the votes for not extending the amended ordinance that ‘strongly encouraged’ people wear a mask was actually a ‘parliamentary’ way to bring the required mask discussions back on the table during the next scheduled council meeting on Nov. 17.

“We had to vote no with the rest of them so we could reconsider it [in the next scheduled council meeting]," Worley said. “Because we voted on the prevailing side, it gives us the right to ask for reconsideration before the minutes are read at the next meeting. Once we get to that point, I’m going to interrupt the chairman and ask him for reconsideration of that ordinance. He ain’t gonna like it, but he can’t stop it.”

Worley added he’s had several people contact him wanting to understand why he voted against the mask mandate when he previously voted in favor of it. He says the ‘nay’ vote is a way to open back the door to consider the ordinance.

According to numerous council members, a supermajority vote was required on Tuesday in order to extend the emergency ordinance. One council member stated a supermajority vote was needed because the emergency ordinance motion was being taken up prior to when it expired on Oct. 30.

During the meeting, legal counsel for the county stated two-thirds of the board had to vote in favor of the mask ordinance in order for it to pass.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the mask ordinance passed in a vote 7-5. A supermajority voted would of required a vote of 8-4 in order for face covering mandate to get extended.

Worley said there weren’t enough votes to extend the original mask ordinance, so he voted against the ordinance with a plan of bringing it back up for reconsideration next month.

“Folks out there need to understand why [some of us] voted no,” Worley said. “Even though we were for it and voted no, we did that so we could be on the prevailing side so we could ask for reconsideration after three weeks. It’s a parliamentary council rule that we have to follow."

WMBF News contacted all Horry County Council members for this story, including Chairman Johnny Gardner. On Tuesday, Gardner said he didn’t intend to call a special meeting to address the mask ordinance.

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