Paul Gokukin addresses Androscoggin County commissioners Wednesday night at the county building in Auburn. He covers his face with his shirt, saying it’s as effective as a cloth mask against COVID-19 and that he believes masks are basically useless. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — After receiving a warning last week from the Maine Attorney General’s office, the chairwoman for the Androscoggin County Commission announced that only commissioners and county employees will be allowed to attend in-person meetings.

Chairwoman Sally Christner wrote in an email to the commissioners, Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson and Chief Deputy William Gagne that “due to the space constraints, we will be only allowing commissioners and employees to attend in-person meetings.”

“We are presently working on a Zoom option for the public to view the meetings,” Christner said.

Christner’s statement arrived shortly after she received a letter from Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey telling the commissioners that they were “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,” Frey continued, who sent the letter after a heavily attended meeting Wednesday night where the Androscoggin County Commission narrowly voted to table a resolution rejecting Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 mask mandate.

Isaiah Lary speaks during Wednesday’s Androscoggin County Commission meeting in Auburn about his feelings that the Maine state mask mandate may be unconstitutional. Several commissioners were not wearing masks during the meeting. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Commissioner Isaiah Lary, who presented the resolution before the commission on Wednesday, replied to Christner’s email on Saturday with a letter of his own, calling her decision “wrong for several reasons.”

Lary said that Wednesday’s meeting was “likely the largest crowd in the past four years” and had people “showing up and sharing emotional and tragic experiences about how their loved ones and others have been harmed by the Governor and her administrations lockdowns and mask mandates.”

Lary added that Christner did not have the authority to solely disallow the public from attending meetings in-person.

“It is a decision that belongs to the Board of Commissioners,” Lary said. “This decision needs to be retracted immediately.”

Christner declined to comment on Lary’s letter Sunday afternoon, adding that she doesn’t “want to be critical of other commissioners, no matter how apart we are on our positions.”

“I want to put this unrest that has been thrust upon us in Androscoggin County to rest,” Christner said.

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