Commentary: Do the right thing, put a mask on

Once called “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth bar none,” Sir Ernest Shackleton once said “Loneliness is the penalty of leadership.”

It’s certain that Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski is feeling lonely these days.

Elinski’s decision to overrule the city council by mayoral proclamation to mandate facial masks in Cottonwood has angered many in the community. He’s at odds with a majority voting bloc of the city council. It’s also ostracized him with many residents in Cottonwood and throughout the Verde Valley.

Ultimately, for putting their health and safety first.

Elinski’s real crime is not so much his unilateral face-mask mandate, but more so for failing to have a solid read on the sentiments of his fellow council members. Note that on the same day Elinski brought the wrath of many local citizens down on himself, Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig also mandated facial masks for his town by mayoral decree.

In Von Gausig’s case, he issued his mayoral proclamation without first testing the waters on face masks with his own town council. He completely bypassed them, and in doing so escaped being the public punching bag that Elinski has become.

It’s obvious Elinski did not want to go the route he did. He was gambling on four council votes in favor of a face-mask mandate. He lost the bet, then reluctantly chose to play a trump card only the mayor holds.

It can be lonely at the top, Mr. Mayor.

It’s well understood that the cities and towns in the Verde Valley hold sacred their autonomy.

But in the case of face-mask mandates to combat the ever-growing number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona, a regional approach would have been preferable to local control.

That’s exactly how the municipalities and county government in the Prescott area dealt with the issue. There are no face-mask requirements in any of the cities, towns or unincorporated communities on the west side of Mingus Mountain. There is a universal policy. All the communities are on the same page.

To mask or not mask should be a consistent policy throughout the Verde Valley and Sedona.

While mask-mandates are basically self-enforced today, during the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 laws were written in a manner that the expectation was that everyone would wear a mask.

Instead of mandating (suggesting) that you wear a mask, in most U.S. communities in 1918-19, it was against the law to be seen in public without a mask.

Those violating such laws faced fines up to $100 and up to 10 days in jail.

Despite such a heavy-handed approach, there were those who viewed the mask mandate as a violation of personal liberty. So much so, in fact, that an organization known as the The Anti-Mask League of 1919 was formed.

All of which goes to prove that human nature is the same today as it was 100 years ago. Stubborn ignorance has never gone out of style.

One good thing that has come out of this face-mask debate is the knowledge that people can still stage a public protest in Cottonwood without it turning into a fight with police.

There was police presence during Saturday’s march in Old Town to protest Mayor Elinski’s face-mask mandate, but they never once even got out of their cars.

The same was true two weeks earlier during the Black Lives Matter marches in Cottonwood and Jerome. There were no conflicts between protestors and police. Quite the opposite in fact. Police escorted the marchers.

They guaranteed their safety.

That being said, the protestors who took to the streets in Old Town Saturday did cross the line.

It’s one thing to march through town on a public sidewalk. It’s perfectly acceptable to take your protests to the steps of city hall.

But to purposely march right down the middle of a residential street directly in front of the mayor’s house was in bad taste.

Think of it this way: You are marching and protesting in front of a family man’s home. You are running the risk of upsetting, disturbing or frightening his wife and young children.

Marching and protesting on public sidewalks along primary thoroughfares makes you visible to the masses. It’s the best way to get your message out.

Taking the protest right down the middle of the street in an otherwise quiet and peaceful residential area where the mayor lives is an exercise in harassment and intimidation.

Disorderly conduct? Harassment? Disturbing the peace? Jaywalking? That’s what the mob got away with during Saturday’s protest.

Cottonwood police failed the residents of that neighborhood.

The $64,000 question with face-mask mandates is the degree to which they will be enforced. In Cottonwood last week, City Manager Ron Corbin said the mandate will be more an issue of education than actual enforcement. Further, he said the responsibility will fall on the city’s Code Enforcement Division and not with the Police Department.

Wise move. The last thing police need in today’s environment is to be asked to respond to face-mask complaints.

The best enforcement of this mandate is going to have to come from each of us individually. Business owners need to follow suit by requiring masks of those who enter their stores.

Wear a face mask because it’s a wise safeguard for public health. Wear a face mask because our leaders have encouraged it and you want to be a good citizen. Wear a face mask because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s unknown who the source of the following missive is. It’s something currently making the rounds on social media that is chockful of wisdom and well worth repeating.

When I wear a mask in public:

• I want you to know that I am educated enough to know that I could be asymptomatic and still give you the virus.

• No, I don’t “live in fear” of the virus; I just want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

• I don’t feel like the “government is controlling me;” I feel like I’m being a contributing adult to society and I want to teach others the same.

• The world doesn’t revolve around me. It’s not all about me and my comfort.

• If we all could live with other people’s consideration in mind, this whole world would be a much better place.

• Wearing a mask doesn’t make me weak, scared, stupid, or even “controlled.” It makes me considerate.

• When you think about how you look, how uncomfortable it is, or what others think of you, just imagine someone close to you - a child, a father, a mother, grandparent, aunt, or uncle - choking on a respirator, alone without you or any family member allowed at bedside.

• Ask yourself if you could have sucked it up a little for them.”

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