Commissioners discuss whether to relax COVID-19 restrictions

Ben Ezzell

ENID, Okla. — An email from an Enid city commissioner states he will push for the city to adopt state COVID-19 recommendations as mandates and called the chief of police's comments during the last hearing on the issue "chickens---."

The email from Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell was sent to the other commissioners, Mayor George Pankonin, City Manager Jerald Gilbert and City Attorney Carol Lahman explaining his intentions to reintroduce COVID-19 precaution mandates in accordance with state-phased guidelines, as applicable as they can be to a city ordinance. 

A special meeting of Enid City Commission has been set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Grand Ballroom of Stride Bank Center. A study session also is scheduled for 5 p.m. on the same day and in the same location. The agenda released Friday afternoon will put to vote the adoption of the state's color-coded COVID-19 alert system and provide specific measures tailored to the risk level for individuals, businesses and vulnerable people.

Enid Public Schools' Board of Education on Tuesday voted to adopt the state board of education's recommended re-entry plan, which also was designed off the health department's alert system.

Garfield County was upgraded to moderate-risk "orange" phase Friday, along with over a dozen other Oklahoma counties.

The last proposed mask mandate ordinance was defeated in a 5-2 vote during a July 15 meeting lasting more than four hours and with members of the community crowding the city's meeting chambers.

The email was posted Thursday on Facebook by Enid Police Department Capt. Bryan Skaggs in a public post. 

In the email, Ezzell wrote, "To be crystal clear, I am directing Carol (Lahman) to draft an ordinance very simply adopting the state suggesting as a mandate, and put it on the August 4, 2020 regular session agenda for adoption. Any one commissioner can put an item on the agenda, and if this fails again I will keep bringing something back in different iterations."

The email continues, "One additional point, I am completely appalled that our Chief of Police (Brian O'Rourke) vocally undermined our last effort. I do not give a damn if he wants to enforce it or not, that is the job of EPD, to enforce the ordinances that WE (emphasis added by Ezzell) set. Hundreds of other cities and a couple dozen states have figured it out. Saying 'it will be difficult' is completely chickens---.

"Public health is difficult, and people are dying, so let’s do the difficult thing and not whine about it. PEOPLE ARE DYING. Let’s get our s--- together and not complain about the effort being hard. If EPD won’t enforce our ordinances, then who is answerable to who?! We are the elected body, we pass ordinances, and we also control EPD’s budget. That was completely out of line."

O'Rourke said via Zoom during the July 15 meeting's public comment that the ordinance basically was unenforceable.

“It’s difficult to enforce,” O’Rourke said during the meeting, adding that he believed businesses should have the right to decide.

“I really don’t want to put our officers in that position.”

O'Rourke said he had no comment about the remarks made by Ezzell in the email to commissioners, the mayor, city manager and city attorney.

When contacted for comment, Ezzell said he did not think the email would be widely circulated when he wrote it.

"I generally take a different tone with my fellow commissioner and city manger and the city attorney than I do with the general public," he said. "I also think everything I said is more or less accurate."

He said he hopes the public doesn't lose focus on the issue at hand because of the email.

"Our cases are going up. It's going the wrong direction. We need to do something to change behavior. I feel like we’ve got to try something," he said. "Before everybody gets too worked up, read the draft ordinance and it will be attached to the agenda. I think we're just doing what the state is asking people to do. Don't pre-judge it."

Oklahoma currently ranks 32nd in the number of total reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and 34th in the cumulative incidence (per 100,000 persons) of reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according Oklahoma's State Department of Health's Friday epidemiology report.

The state gained more new COVID-19 cases in July than it did in March through June combined, according to data from the OSDH. Oklahoma had a cumulative 14,112 cases of COVID-19 on July 1, compared to 36,487 on July 31, a gain of 22,375, according to OSDH data. More than 61% of the overall cases in the state were in July.

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Rains is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @cassrains.
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