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Oxford city council not likely to re-up mask mandate

Oxford Mayor Bill Snavely said Oxford City Council will likely not renew the city’s emergency mask mandate, which expires March 1, at Council’s Feb. 15 meeting.

Though not official, Snavely spoke in absolute terms during the meeting. 

He said a potential renewal would need six votes to pass at the next Council meeting on March 1. 

Though Snavely said he will not be at the next City Council meeting, Councilor Glenn Ellerbe has said he will not vote to renew the mandate. Snavely did not disclose a reason for his expected absence. This means Council will fail to have six votes for a renewed mandate. 

“You can pretty well count on the fact that it will expire March 1,” Snavely said.

During the public participation session of the meeting, five residents spoke in favor of ending the mask mandate early.

Patrick Reaves, a first-year business major at Miami University, brought up Miami’s high vaccination rates as a reason to end the mandate.

Reaves also mentioned entities such as Washington, D.C. and nearby Xavier University ending their mask mandates, though Washington, D.C.'s mask mandate will also expire on March 1.

“We could work together and be on the front edge of this and remove our mandate,” Reaves said.

Oxford resident Chris Williams made an impassioned call to end the mandate. Williams, whose son attends Marshall Elementary School, said his son has “never had a normal day at school.” Marshall, like all Talawanda schools, is bound by the mandate.

“We asked Talawanda to change it,” Williams said. “You know what their response back to us is? ‘Well, Oxford voted it in, and this is what we have to do.’”

Williams accused Talawanda Superintendent, Dr. Ed Theroux, of using the city’s mandate as a shield against backlash.

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“He hides behind all of you,” Williams said.

Williams urged Council to hold an emergency vote to end the mandate at the meeting.

Councilor Ellerbe voiced his support for residents against the mask mandate. Ellerbe, whose dissent blocked the original vote for the mask mandate on Jan. 4, said he wanted to call an emergency vote at Tuesday’s meeting, but acknowledged that it was unlikely to pass.

Ellerbe, along with Snavely, does not expect Council to renew the emergency mandate.

“I will be shocked if this gets extended again,” Ellerbe said.

Snavely also expressed his support for residents at the meeting.

“I actually agree with most of the people who spoke,” Snavely said, “and I think the time for the mask ordinance is at an end.”

Councilor Amber Franklin said Council has received feedback from residents who want the mandate to be extended beyond March 1, but said she wasn’t in favor of it. Franklin wants to keep the mandate in place until its expiration date.

In addition, Council passed four resolutions unanimously during the meeting. 

One resolution authorizes the city manager to submit a grant application to Proctor and Gamble for playground equipment inclusive to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). New equipment would include wheelchair accessible playground equipment, such as a “whirl.”

Amy Shaman, an Oxford resident, spoke in favor of the resolution.

“Kids should get to play, regardless of what a particular kid’s needs are,” Shaman said.

Another resolution authorizes the city manager to enter into a contract with GovOs, a company based in Austin, Tex., to enforce and collect the short term rental tax council passed in August 2021.

Though Council had three options to enforce the tax, they chose GovOs as a “one stop shop” to register short-term rentals, as well as enable the owners of the properties to pay their taxes via an online portal, Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said.

Council will meet again Tuesday, March 1 in the Oxford Courthouse. The meeting will also be streamed live on  the city website.