The majority of Annapolis City Council members approve of a new policy to check the vaccination cards of all who hope to attend council meetings when the public returns to City Hall in July.
When the council convenes meetings on July 12 and July 26, “it’s not unreasonable” to ask attendees to confirm they’re vaccinated, said Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, who said he carries his vaccine card with him in public.
Six other council members approved of the policy. Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles, D-Ward 3, could not be reached for this story.
“I definitely want to see people back; it’s very valuable to hear from them, see their facial expressions, you know, they’re passion. You can’t do that virtually,” Arnett said. “I don’t think people understand how much of an impact personal testimony has on council members. It really does mean a lot to us, and it can really carry the day.”
The city announced Friday that for the first time in more than 16 months, city residents would be able to access all city buildings when they officially reopen to the public on July 6. Vaccinated visitors won’t be required to wear masks, while those who haven’t gotten their shot are “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask when visiting city buildings. Those who do not could be disciplined.
The Office of Law signed off on the policy to check vaccination cards just over a month after Buckley said asking a person’s vaccination status “crosses a line.”
Under the state of emergency order that Buckley declared at the start of the pandemic, the city has wide flexibility to protect the public’s health and safety, including asking for vaccination status, said City Attorney Mike Lyles.
“There’s no law, rule, or regulation that prevents us from checking for vaccine [status] for individuals coming in,” Lyles said.
Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, said he had “mixed feelings” about the policy.
“I don’t know how much good it’s going to do,” Paone said. “I’d rather the city err on the side of caution, but it’s got elements of foolishness.”
As to what those foolish elements might be, Paone pointed out the reopening was still a month away, and vaccination levels by then might be high enough that asking for proof might not be necessary.
“I am not a no-masker, but I just wonder at some point a lot of this stuff has to stop,” he said.
For Arnett, the policy would ideally be short-lived, and he hoped there would be leniency for folks who forget their card but can confirm in some other way they’ve received their shot. Paone agreed.
Aldermen Brooks Schandelmeier, D-Ward 5, and Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, said they were comfortable with requiring proof of vaccinations in part because the city is providing an alternative for residents to deliver testimony.
City spokesperson Mitchelle Stephenson said unvaccinated people are encouraged to use the city’s Skype video program to deliver live testimony for a meeting or submit written testimony. More information can be found at: www.annapolis.gov/FormCenter/City-Clerk-14/Public-Comment-Web-Form-67.
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The policy could help eliminate possible outbreaks among unvaccinated people who are in close contact during council meetings that can sometimes stretch for hours, Savidge said.
“At this point, everyone needs a vaccine,” he said. “It’s a public health necessity, and it will ensure the safety of these meetings for everybody who attends.”
Returning the public to council chambers “must be under the safest conditions,” said Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, who said she didn’t have a problem with the policy. But she did wonder who will enforce it.
That will fall to Annapolis police officers assigned to the meeting, Stephenson said.
Anne Arundel County also announced it would reopen buildings on July 19.
The county will continue to ask people who have not been vaccinated to wear masks in county buildings. Signs in the buildings will encourage unvaccinated visitors to follow the Centers for Disease Control Guidelines and wear masks during their visit.
County spokesperson Jeff Amoros has said people will not be asked their vaccination status when they enter county buildings.