You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Las Cruces blames 'clerical error' for confusion over public input before mask vote

Las Cruces Sun-News logo Las Cruces Sun-News 4 days ago Michael McDevitt, Las Cruces Sun-News
Does the vaccine protect you from the Delta variant? Here's what we know
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

LAS CRUCES - Following Monday’s city council meeting, one Las Crucen has submitted a complaint to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office for what he alleges are violations of the state’s open meetings law.

It all comes down to an asterisk.

At the July 19 meeting — the first held in person in more than 15 months — the Las Cruces City Council formally approved an emergency proclamation that instituted COVID-safe rules for the in-person meetings. The proclamation goes further than many city facilities and businesses in that it requires council meeting attendees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be allowed to ditch their face masks inside the council chambers.

a person sitting at a desk in front of a piano: Las Cruces City Council Mayor Pro Tem Kasandra Gandara listens to public comment on July 19, 2021. © Justin Garcia/Las Cruces Sun-News Las Cruces City Council Mayor Pro Tem Kasandra Gandara listens to public comment on July 19, 2021.

'Pandemic is not over': New Mexico eyes COVID-19 delta variant as cases rise nationwide

The proclamation was issued by Mayor Ken Miyagishima July 16 and was set to expire July 20 without Monday’s council vote which extended it.

The proclamation now lasts until July 23, at which point it will run concurrent with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s ongoing declared public health emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the council could vote to rescind it before the governor’s order is up.

Related: City council approves vaccination status enforcement for council meetings

Jeff Howey, a resident who has frequently spoken out against COVID-19 vaccines, restrictions and face mask requirements throughout the pandemic, entered City Hall Monday afternoon ahead of the council meeting to demand entrance without needing to show proof of vaccination or wear a mask. Howey said he isn’t vaccinated because the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines are still only approved under an emergency use authorization, he believes people aren’t informed enough of the risks and he said he doesn’t want to be a “guinea pig.”

a person holding a sign: Jeff Howey hold a sign that reads "Open now small business is big in New Mexico" as protesters gather at the Las Cruces City Hall building in Downtown Las Cruces on Friday, May 1, 2020. © Nathan J Fish/Sun-News Jeff Howey hold a sign that reads "Open now small business is big in New Mexico" as protesters gather at the Las Cruces City Hall building in Downtown Las Cruces on Friday, May 1, 2020.

Others are reading: Walmart taxed grocery deliveries after N.M. tax deduction bill took effect

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, mitigate the risk of severe illness from a COVID-19 infection and can help keep you from contracting and spreading the virus from and to others.

Federal health officials have said that almost all recent coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths are occurring among the unvaccinated in the United States.

Howey approached the private security guards standing outside the council chambers and demanded to be let in. He claimed the mask rules were illegal and, after arguing back and forth with guards, he and about half a dozen others were let in without needing to show proof of vaccination and were not required to wear masks, due to the group carrying cards claiming medical exemption.

COVID-19 vaccinations: A Las Crucen is the third Vax 2 the Max winner for the southwest

Not allowing public comment before COVID mask vote is 'an insult,' resident says

But Howey contends public input on the resolution extending the emergency proclamation was not properly handled.


Video: What is Critical Race Theory? (Las Cruces Sun-News)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

After Tracy Hollister spoke against the vaccination rule during general public input, Miyagishima said that typically wasn't allowed until the agenda item was being discussed. Howey shouted from his seat he'd also like to comment on the resolution, with the mayor stating he'd "call on you during the resolution."

However, the resolution was included on the consent agenda, meaning it would be voted on in a package with other items through one sweeping vote, and there wouldn't be discussion unless a council member pulled it to be individually discussed and voted on.

It's unclear from the dialogue between the mayor and Howey if Miyagishima knew which resolution to which Howey was referring.

Ken Miyagishima et al. that are standing in front of a piano: A man speaks during public comment at the July 19, 2021, Las Cruces City Council meeting. © Justin Garcia/Las Cruces Sun-News A man speaks during public comment at the July 19, 2021, Las Cruces City Council meeting.

Since no councilor removed it for discussion, the proclamation was extended without further public comment.

But what confused Howey, he said, was the meeting agenda posted by the city online didn't feature an asterisk next to the resolution extending the proclamation — the asterisk signifies the item is included on the consent agenda, and therefore won't be discussed. The item was still listed on the consent agenda, however.

But the missing asterisk, combined with the mayor telling Howey to wait until the resolution came up for a vote before he commented, led Howey to believe people would be allowed to speak on the matter.

"I believe it was not voted on properly," Howey said. "Based on their own printed agenda that was available at the meeting."

The mayor said the agenda packet distributed to the council had the correct asterisk next to the resolution.

But Miyagishima told the Sun-News in a text message he "could’ve handled (public discussion) better."

Ken Miyagishima wearing a suit and tie: Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima issued a proclamation requiring council meeting attendees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be allowed to ditch their face masks inside the council chambers. © Nathan J Fish/Sun-News Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima issued a proclamation requiring council meeting attendees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be allowed to ditch their face masks inside the council chambers.

Howey alleges, in an electronic complaint filed with the AG's office July 19, the typo meant the proper agenda was not posted at least 72 hours in advance of the council meeting, in line with the state Open Meetings Act. The city contends that's not the case.

City Communications Director Mandy Guss said "the omission of the asterisk was a clerical error," in an email to the Sun-News, but she added that no rules were broken in how the vote was carried out.

"The omission of an asterisk did not remove it from consent as it was properly categorized and it did not affect the proper posting," Guss wrote.

Howey, who said he has barely attended any in-person city council meetings, said he didn't fully understand the process until it was too late, and the measure had passed.

All Howey understood, he lays out in his complaint, is that the agenda says “Those items on the agenda indicated by an asterisk (*) are on the consent agenda and will be voted on by one motion.”

"This was the reason why I went back and allowed those to speak," the mayor said.

While the council did vote to suspend the rules and allowed public comment on the proclamation, Howey said it made no difference.

"To hear (our arguments) after the fact is an insult at best," Howey said. "It's an affront to liberty at worst. What's the point? They've already voted for it."

The OMA does not require that the public be allowed to speak at council meetings. If someone who wasn't vaccinated or didn't present proof didn't want to wear a mask, the meeting is still streamed online and broadcast on television. The mayor said he'd like to continue the virtual public input system implemented during the pandemic at future meetings.

A spokesperson for the AG's office said they were in receipt of the complaint, which was under review as of Wednesday.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

Others are reading:

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces blames 'clerical error' for confusion over public input before mask vote

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Las Cruces Sun-News

Las Cruces Sun-News
Las Cruces Sun-News
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon