Town Council approves adhering to Buncombe mask mandate

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Mayor Harris and the town council members each made their individual opinions public during the meeting.

At its special call meeting Aug. 20, the Black Mountain town council approved the mask mandate outlined by Buncombe County and set to begin the next morning at 8 a.m. 

"My preference was to try a voluntary compliance," said Black Mountain Mayor Larry Harris. "It's challenging, that's just what it is."

The mandate requires residents of the county and the town of Black Mountain to wear masks at all times whenever indoors in a public space. Such spaces include business establishments, offices, workplaces, public transportation facilities and vehicles, and "any indoor place the public is invited and allowed to enter and gather." This mandate will remain in effect until Sept. 30. 

Although at most special meetings of the Town Council, public comment is not allowed, the mayor offered time for town residents to offer opinions, given the divisiveness of the subject matter. Eight members of the public addressed the council with a fairly even split of those in favor and those opposed. 

"This mandate does nothing," said town resident Nathan West. "It doesn't protect anybody. It's unenforceable. People are already taking care of each other in this community."

On the opposing end, Matthew Begley, a town resident and graduate of Davidson College with a biology degree, agreed that he didn't enjoy wearing the mask, but that it was a necessary discomfort to keep the community safe. 

"I've lost two people close to me already," Begley said. "If you do not require masks anymore in indoor public spaces, what are you going to do to protect children who aren't eligible to get vaccinated and immunocompromised adults whose response to the vaccine is not as effective?"

Members of the public addressed the town council prior to the council's decision to enforce the county mask mandate.

Harris addressed the public, thanking everyone for their input and voicing his own take on the matter, given his inability to vote on the council. Harris said that since the majority of medical professionals favor specific protocols, it proves difficult for local ordinances to take an alternative approach. 

A mass series of emails was received by the mayor and council members prior to the council meeting, which according to Harris as well as the other council members, were largely in favor of the county mandate. 

"Regardless of how this comes out today, I'd encourage us all to keep on being good neighbors, keep on being considerate, keep on being patient," Harris said. 

After the mayor's address, each member of the council took the time to speak to the public and explain the reasoning for supporting the county mandate. 

"I didn't really know what to expect today, and I'm really grateful that everybody is being the good neighbors we can expect in Black Mountain," said council member Pam King. 

King said the public emails that spoke to her the most were from local business owners who urged the council to implement the mask mandate. She said the Black Mountain merchants asked for assistance from the town in dealing with the public. 

Council member Archie Pertiller agreed with King, saying the elderly and the children are his priority when it comes to safety. 

"To make a long story short, I will be in support of the county's mandate," Pertiller said. 

Vice Mayor Ryan Stone addressed the public directly, noting the difficulty of trying to support the entire town when not everyone agrees. He said he would be available to speak with residents further, should they have any other questions or points of discussion they wish to address. 

With the entire council in agreement, the mayor saw no need for it to come to a vote, and he capitulated with the council's request to reinstate a mask mandate with Black Mountain.

"Even though we all have different opinions we will move forward; we will get through this thing," Harris said.