CLAREMONT — The Claremont City Council voted 6-2 on Wednesday to rescind a non-binding resolution passed last year that encouraged residents to wear a face mask in public places.
The resolution, approved last May by the council, sought to provide support to local businesses and organizations by encouraging the wearing of a mask in public to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
At the time the resolution’s proposal had created a public stir due to the nationwide controversy of mask requirements, though the Claremont resolution did not mandate masks nor include a penalty for non-compliance.
The city council said it wanted to revisit the resolution after the recent lifting of New Hampshire’s statewide mandate by Gov. Chris Sununu. Despite the removal of the state’s mandates, New Hampshire municipalities may still uphold mask requirements at the local level.
Some Claremont city councilors felt that without the state’s backing, the city’s resolution would cause confusion among residents.
Councilor Nick Koloski, who made the motion to rescind the ordinance, pointed to a number of recent incidents in local businesses involving residents who refused to comply with the store’s mask-related policy since the statewide mandate was lifted. While these policies were set by the private business owners and not the city, Koloski said he would prefer the city staying out of these matters.
“Even if we go forward maintaining [the resolution] we have now, many people don’t understand what a resolution is,” Koloski said.
Councilor Deborah Matteau, who strongly supported the resolution’s adoption, agreed about rescinding the policy.
“What I’ve learned in the last 14 months is that you can’t legislate people to be considerate of others,” Matteau said.
Matteau reminded the public that private businesses have a right to require customers to wear masks. But the city resolution “lacked teeth” to make any difference and has created public confusion.
Councilor Jim Contois disagreed with the majority, saying instead he would like to replace the resolution with an enforceable mandate. Contois said there are still too many people who are not acting responsibly and that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends mask-wearing for people who are not fully vaccinated when indoors.
Councilor Andrew O’Hearne, who also voted against the motion, said he objected to the procedure. O’Hearne said he felt the council should have drafted a new resolution to rescind the existing one, which would have allowed time to schedule a public hearing.
According to Koloski, Robert’s Rules of Order, which the council follows for procedure, states that an active resolution may be rescinded without a public hearing by a two-thirds majority vote. Three-fourths of the council voted to rescind the resolution.
Sweetser announces resignationThe Claremont City Council will search for a new city councilor to fill the seat of former Councilor Erica Sweetser, whose resignation was officially announced on Wednesday.
Sweetser, who was elected to an at-large council seat in 2019, told The Eagle Times that her schedule was making it too difficult to commit the time needed for the council role. In addition to her work hours in local restaurants, Sweetser also takes college classes and is homeschooling her youngest daughter. Sweetser’s work schedule also changed due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic as more restaurants limited their hours to the evenings.
“I am well aware I could have just held onto that seat and did the bare minimum [of showing up],” Sweetser said. “But I don’t have time to do the work outside of the meetings anymore. The seat should have someone who can do it. And I think there are a few people who are willing to do it that I hope apply.”
The council must fill Sweetser’s seat by the council’s Wednesday, May 26, meeting. Interested applicants may find more information about the filing process on the city website at claremontnh.com or submit one’s application to the city manager’s office. The deadline to apply is Friday, May 17, at 5 p.m.
Sweetser is the second councilor this term to depart prematurely. Former Councilor Abigail Kier resigned last December due to her relocation to the Washington, D.C. area.
The city council, by a majority vote, selected Councilor Dale Girard in January to fill Kier’s seat.