Citing lack of participation in its mandate to wear face masks and observe social distancing in public places, the McComb city board voted Tuesday to add teeth to the mandates Tuesday.
Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said he has seen too many people ignoring Gov. Tate Reeves’ mask order along with his own order that limits city crowd sizes. He noted the police chief told him there were gatherings of between 50 and 100 people over the weekend.
“We have seen numerous gatherings of more than 20 people ... to the point that our police officers are going from one end of the city to the other end trying to control or disperse these groups,” Lockley said. “Apparently, there is a group of us that do not want to abide by the governor’s executive order.”
Under the rules, businesses are limited to 50% capacity and individuals are limited to gatherings of 10 people indoors and 20 people outdoors. Face masks are required to be worn in public for people over the age of 2, with some exceptions.
The board voted to give businesses a single warning, followed by a $1,000 fine for each subsequent violation regarding crowd sizes or the lack of use of face masks for employees and customers.
Individuals found violating the crowd size mandate will face an first-offense fine of $1,000 as well.
There is no fine for individuals who are not wearing a face mask in McComb.
The penalties passed 4-1, with selectmen Ronnie Brock, Devante Johnson, Shawn Williams and Ted Tullos voting in favor and Michael Cameron opposed. Selectman Donovan Hill was absent.
Lockley noted that the individuals who will be fined if found in violation of crowd sizes will be either the homeowner or renter of the property.
Cameron said he was against adding a fine because he has personally seen and heard some schools are not following the gathering limit while in football practice.
“Are we prepared to fine McComb School District $1,000? Are we prepared to fine Parklane (Academy) $1,000?” he said.
Board attorney Angela Cockerham said though the schools do need to limit their gatherings to 20 individuals, they would not be fined as part of the mandate.
Johnson said adding a fine would be best for the community, noting Pike County has around the same amount of deaths as bigger counties like Jackson and Harrison.
“I know it is hard to take the necessary precautions, but let’s flatten the curve,” he said.
Williams asked the board how many cities impose fines, and Johnson responded that McComb was “the only city that didn’t have a fine.” Williams said he was one of the board members to suggest there be no fine on the mandate when it was passed but he has since changed his mind.
“I felt that our city and our citizens would abide by it, but I have been noticing that has not been taking place,” Williams said. “For me right now, for the safety of the citizens of this city, I support a fine because something has to be done.”
Lockley also said it is up to the business to ensure customers wear a mask upon entering the building.
“Understand that we are not going to be going out there and checking,” Lockley said. “We are not going out specifically to enforce, but if we come out to your business, and you are not doing what you are supposed to do, that is when you get your citation.”
The board also heard comments from Pike County Supervisor Tazwell Bowsky over the pool party he held in late July. Bowsky took offense to a statement Lockley made a couple of weeks ago.
“How this came up for someone to suggest no one was above the law, I don’t know why this was interjected into the conversation,” Bowsky said. “I didn’t break any law because there is no law, and I am asking this board to clarify that, or if the newspaper printed it in error, I ask you to admonish them and have it re retracted.”
Lockley’s quote in question at the board’s July 28 meeting was, “All the parties and all that is above 20 folks, you are illegal.”
Bowsky argued that he did not break a law, but rather a city mandate. Lockley said he would do as Bowsky asked.
“Supervisor Bowsky, it was said you violated the governor’s executive order and that we are responsible for enforcing that executive order,” Lockley said. “But if it needs to be cleared up, I am willing to do that.”