Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales argues a point during Wednesday’s commission meeting in Auburn. Contrasting the previous meeting where several commissioners did not wear a mask, he was the only one to not wear one at Wednesday’s meeting. In the background is Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston who was wearing two. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Put your masks on, or face legal consequences.

That was the message from Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey to the Androscoggin County Commissioners in a letter sent Friday afternoon to Commission Chair Sally A. Christner and Vice Chair Terri Kelly, and copied to others. 

The note gets right to the point.

“My office has received reports that at one or more public meetings of the Androscoggin County Commissioners, there were individuals in attendance, including commissioners, who were not wearing masks,” Frey wrote. “I am writing to advise you that pursuant to an executive order, the commissioners are legally obligated to require that all persons attending public meetings, including the commissioners themselves, wear face coverings. Beyond the legal obligation, the use of face coverings is critical to protecting the public health and deterring further spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.” 

The letter was sent on the heels of a feisty, heavily attended meeting Wednesday night in which the Androscoggin County Commission voted to table a resolution rejecting the COVID-19 mask mandate ordered by Gov. Janet Mills. 

The 4-3 vote came after more than two hours of debate among commissioners and the testimony of nearly two dozen residents from Androscoggin, Kennebec and Oxford counties. All spoke in favor of the resolution, presented by Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, which called the executive orders from the governor a violation of the Maine Constitution. 

In his letter, Frey referenced the constitutional matter, as well as the commissioner’s tabled resolution. 

“The resolution purports to exempt all persons in Androscoggin County from face covering requirements imposed by executive orders,” Frey wrote. “To the extent this resolution is premised on the notion that the executive orders are not constitutional, I was to assure you, as Maine’s chief law enforcement officer, that the executive orders are constitutional and, as noted above, are enforceable through both civil and criminal processes.” 

At least one commissioner is not so sure, however. In his nine-minute presentation of the resolution earlier this week, Lary questioned the governor’s constitutional authority to issue mandates, citing the nondelegation doctrine, which says the legislative branch may not cede its powers to make laws to the executive branch. 

He also questioned the science of wearing masks. 

“The governor and especially the state Legislature have exceeded their constitutional authority and it must stop and it must stop now,” Lary said at the earlier meeting. “This resolution points out the lack of science behind cloth masks, but more importantly it’s very hard to find opposing science through censorship by the big tech media and the mainstream media.” 

In his letter, Frey refuted the assertion that there is lack of science behind cloth masks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized that cloth face coverings help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and are “one of the most powerful weapons” available to combat the current pandemic, he wrote.

But Lary, on Friday night, questioned whether the Attorney General has the power to order the commission to do anything, referring to Frey’s thoughts on the matter as nothing more than opinion.

“The Attorney General does not have the authority to decide whether the executive orders issued by Gov. Mills based on the Maine Emergency Management statutes are constitutional or not,” Lary said in response to Frey’s letter. “He has given his opinion, but ultimately, that is an issue that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court would have to decide. I urge the County Commission to pass my resolution and ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to answer this important question of the law. There is precedent in the past of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issuing an opinion for committees and other groups other than the legislative, executive, and judicial branches; and given this critical time for Constitutional government, it is essential that the court chooses to do so.”

Reached for comment Friday night, Christner said she had hoped that the matter would have been settled before Frey had to get involved. 

“I have tried to be very patient and considerate of the commissioner that is pushing this,” Christner said. “I realize that people are very passionate about their concerns. On the other hand, and I hate to tell elected officials that they have to do something or not do something. I was hoping that they would come to the right decision on their own.” 

She said she expects the matter to be resolved within the coming week. 

“Just suffice it to say the Attorney General will not have to contact me a second time,” Christner said. 

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