Now that Ahwatukee residents and the rest of their Phoenix neighbors must wear a facemask in a variety of public gatherings, city officials hope they won’t be calling 911 to rat out maskless people.
And while it is unclear if the city mandate follows other municipalities not including schools in the order, it won’t matter for the Kyrene and Tempe Union schools in Ahwatukee.
Both Kyrene Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely and Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil said students and staff – with some exceptions – will be required to wear masks on campuses and school buses.
Vesely was the first superintendent in the state to make her announcement June 16 – the day before Gov. Doug Ducey left it up to municipalities and counties to decide on whether to impose a mask requirement after saying he would not issue a statewide ban. Mendivil made his announcement at a governing board meeting only a couple hours after Ducey’s decision. The governor cited a continuing rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona.
The decision was something of an about-face for the governor, who for months has forbidden counties and municipalities from imposing any virus-related rules that are stricter than what the state imposes.
Both Mendivil and Vesely cited their concern for children and their families as well as employees.
Other districts have not announced their plans while Mesa Superintendent Dr. Andi Fourlis said she’s undecided despite the fact that Mesa Mayor John Giles issued a mask requirement.
Phoenix requires a mask for anyone 6 and older “when away from their homes and whenever they are within six feet of another person who is not a member of their family or household.”
It exempts people with health conditions that would make a face covering difficult, people whose religious beliefs forbid it, restaurant patrons while they are eating and/or drinking and people walking outside or exercising if physical distanced by 6 feet from others who are not family members.
It also exempts “people engaging in organized group or team sports, exercise or other physical activities where it is not practicable or feasible to wear a mask or physically distance” and those receiving or obtaining services or goods.
And while businesses are being required to post signs warning patrons to wear a mask, owners are specifically not required to enforce the mandate – although they can call police if a patron refuses a request to wear a mask and will not leave the premises.
Despite those exemptions, city officials fear police will be inundated with complaints.
Among them is Ahwatukee Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who with Councilman Fred Waring cast the two “no” votes in City Council’s 7-2 vote last Friday to impose the mandate.
“I’m very concerned about using the police,” DiCiccio told AFN in an interview prior to the meeting.
“I think mandating it – I would have been okay with, but saying we’re going to do this without any police enforcement of it,” he said.
“Everybody is hyper-sensitive about masks right now,” he continued. “By using the police now as the middleman here, you’ve created a really bad situation for them and for the public’s expectation ... They have a total right to call the police department if they see someone without a mask.”
Both City Manager Ed Zuercher and Police Chief Jeri Williams somewhat echoed those concerns during the council meeting.
While repeated violations of the mandate could draw a $250 fine, Zuercher said, “We want a ticket to be the absolute last of all possible actions because we want the public to understand how serious it is.”
Williams noted she had prepared educational materials for police to hand to people not wearing a mask.
“It does not create a criminal record to violate mask rules,” Police Chief Jeri Williams said during the meeting.
In a statement, Mayor Kate Gallego said, “We are in the midst of a pandemic” and noted that on Friday health officials reported a record high of 3,246 new cases.
“Phoenix and Arizona are seeing a rapid increase in cases of COVID-19,” Gallego said. “Public health professionals tell us there are steps we can take to slow the spread and that facial coverings are an incredibly important tool.”
Ahwatukee residents who venture into neighboring East Valley communities will entering communities with a range of responses to a mandate.
Both Tempe and Scottsdale were among the first to enact mask requirements with possible penalties. Chandler eventually followed suit but only after a bitter argument among its City Council members.
Mesa also has issued a mask mandate with potential fines while Gilbert Town Council approved a mask requirement with no penalties for violations.
Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke decided to align with the actions of other cities.
“It makes no sense to do anything that is so out of step with our neighbors,” Hartke said.
The city is not looking to throw anyone in jail for not wearing a mask, Hartke said, so the proclamation’s language has a limited enforcement aspect to it.
Chandler Police said they would likely take an educational approach to how it would enforce any mask-wearing proclamations -- meaning officers would remind and advise residents to comply rather than issue a citation.
Hartke had initially waited to see how the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors would react to the call for mandatory mask-wearing policies before he officially issued Chandler’s proclamation Friday.
But the county supervisors approved a resolution that specifically states its mandate is not meant to usurp any actions taken by municipalities.
Chandler restaurant owners were confused by their city’s requirement and begged city officials for clarification.
The owner of one restaurant emailed city officials Friday saying a patron without a mask threw a chair and walked out without paying his bill when a waiter asked him to put on a face covering.
“How do you want restaurants to address this?” the owner asked. “Are we supposed to FORCE people to wear one? Walk around the restaurant and keep every individual in check? Give us some guidance on this, please.
“Some customers are taking this out on my staff, walking out on them, not tipping them and yelling at them. My manager told me she was yelled at multiple times.”
Chandler Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Terri Kimble also emailed city officials there, noting one section of Hartke’s proclamation said anyone over 6 “shall” wear a mask while the next section said it was voluntary.
The same confusion over enforcement was evident in City Council last Friday.
DiCiccio told his colleagues at the meeting that even before the vote there had been “18,500,000 interactions on social media and over 63,000 comments.”
Some council members wanted block watch participants to enforce the measure and Councilman Michael Nowakowski said he was voting for it with the strict understanding business owners would not be required to enforce the mandate.