Androscoggin County Commissioners Brian Ames of Lewiston, left, and John Michael of Auburn talk before the start of the Feb. 3 commission meeting at the county building in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — A recall effort is underway to remove three members of the Androscoggin County Commission for their roles in the anti-mask debate that has consumed commissioners the past few weeks.

Targeted commissioners include Isaiah Lary of Wales, who authored the controversial anti-mask resolution that states the mask mandate by Gov. Janet Mills is unconstitutional and calls for residents and visitors of Androscoggin County to decide for themselves whether or not to wear face coverings.

The group behind the recall effort has also targeted Commissioners Brian Ames of Lewiston and John Michael of Auburn.

“We have elected officials who are taking an issue of basic public health and turning it into a political game,” Kiernan Majerus-Collins, spokesman for the effort, said in a statement. “People are outraged, and we intend to hold these commissioners accountable.”

Majerus-Collins is a member of the Androscoggin County Budget Committee and serves on the Lewiston School Committee.

Sean Monteith of Lewiston filed papers Thursday to begin the recall effort against Ames, the commissioner for District 3, which includes Durham, Greene and a section of Lewiston.

“When our elected officials make a conscious decision to act against science and not believe in reality, that puts all our lives at risk,” Monteith said. “These anti-science commissioners should no longer serve on the County Commission.”

Formal efforts to recall Lary and Michael are expected soon, Majerus-Collins said.

Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales argues a point during the Feb. 3 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 this meeting. In the background is Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston who was wearing two. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

According to the Androscoggin County Charter, County Administrator Larry Post has 10 days to certify the request and provide petitions for the effort. Petitioners will have 90 days to collect signatures  from at least 10% of the total number of votes cast in the last election for that office.

According to Majerus-Collins, the group needs about 710 signatures to trigger the recall vote against Ames.

“Folks in Androscoggin County understand that our elected officials should be leading by example,” Majerus-Collins said. “The state Legislature, local city councils and school boards have been meeting safely and supporting good public health practices, and we expect the commissioners to do the same.”

While Lary has not worn a mask at any commission meeting, Ames and Michael did wear masks at last week’s meeting when almost three dozen people, nearly all without masks, attended to support Lary’s effort to pass an anti-mask resolution.

The county does not have the authority to override a mandate by the governor. Lary has said his goal is to challenge in court the governor’s use of executive powers to issue mandates.

“These commissioners have made it clear they don’t want to hear from their constituents at their meetings, where mask rules are rejected by officials and visitors alike,” Majerus-Collins said. “Instead, they will hear from us at the ballot box.”

Commissioners postponed action on the resolution after Michael offered a competing resolution. While it does not call for the county to override the governor’s mask mandate, it does call for the state to consider alternative research in combating the pandemic, including herd immunity for the young and healthy and focused protection for the elderly. His resolution calls for the state to fully open restaurants, bars, schools and cultural activities.

Androscoggin County Commissioners Brian Ames of Lewiston and Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls talk Feb. 3 before the start of the commission meeting at the county building in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

On Friday, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey sent a letter to the county informing the commissioners they must follow the mask mandate or face legal consequences.

“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,” Frey wrote. “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.”

In response to the letter from the attorney general, commission Chairwoman Sally Christner announced that future meetings would be closed to the public. Only commissioners and county department heads will be allowed in the meeting room. The public can only watch the meetings on Zoom.

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