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Oxford council votes to require masks in city buildings
Governor's order said masks merely 'strongly encouraged' and cities could not impose rules more restrictive
Participants in the annual Oxford Fourth of July parade display U.S. and Georgia flags during the 2019 event.

OXFORD, Ga. — A Newton County city is joining others in Georgia in going against the governor’s recent executive order and requiring masks be worn within their borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
Oxford City Council approved a resolution Monday, July 20, which mandates that the public wear masks when in city buildings.

The action runs counter to Gov. Brian Kemp’s July 13 executive order that quotes state law in saying that “no local action can be more or less restrictive” than what is contained in his order, the governor’s office said in a July 13 release.  

Kemp’s order said masks are “strongly encouraged” but not required statewide.

The governor also has said publicly he does not believe mask mandates should be imposed because they are unenforceable.

Oxford Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Windham said the Oxford City Council disagrees with the governor and is taking steps needed to protect its employees and residents from COVID-19.

"We feel like anything that is more than state law is reasonable," Windham said.

He also said he does not believe Kemp “is doing his job.”

"I don't think we're taking enough steps to keep (COVID-19) under control," Windham said.

He referred to the Georgia Municipal Association’s filing of a brief Tuesday, July 21, which objected to Kemp's recent lawsuit seeking to overrule the Atlanta mayor’s order mandating masks in public throughout that city.

The Association's filing said the governor was using nonexistent emergency powers to “usurp local control and Home Rule authority.”

The state’s Home Rule Act gives a city's governing body the power to adopt "clearly reasonable ordinances, resolutions, or regulations relating to its property, affairs and local government for which no provision has been made by general law and which are not inconsistent with the state constitution or any applicable charter provision," according to information from the GMA.

Windham said he believed the state's Home Rule Act would override Kemp’s “cannot do it" stance.

Oxford’s resolution stated the council was taking the action “for the protection of members of the public and city employees, including members of vulnerable populations and members of other populations at risk.”

Windham said he did not view the city’s action as being “inconsistent” with what is stated in the state Constitution.

Oxford's resolution said members of the public will be required to wear face coverings “as defined by the CDC or are face coverings designed to protect others from infection by the wearer over the nose and mouth.”

They must wear the masks “when entering and while inside city buildings except as expressly stated in a separate policy, if any, that applies to certain uses of portions of city buildings, such as courtrooms and polling locations,” the resolution stated.

It also noted that City Hall and the Pavilion and Playground at Asbury Street Park reopened to the public on June 29 after being closed three and a half months.