Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales speaks at a recent commission meeting in Auburn. Lary opposes the state requirement that masks be worn in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, saying it’s unconstitutional. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Instead of backing down, Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales has doubled down.

Facing a potential recall vote over his initial resolution arguing against the mask mandate and other executive orders issued by Gov. Janet Mills to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he released a new resolution Wednesday, a week after the first was tabled.

The latest statement resolves that no county official can enforce a “pandemic order,” including the wearing of masks by any resident, visitor or in a business in Androscoggin County. It also resolves to prevent the use of county funds, employees and equipment to enforce the mandate.

Lastly, the resolution resolves that the county administrator take steps to bring the question before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a declaration that “the delegation of lawmaking power to the governor under the Emergency Act is unconstitutional” to the Maine Constitution, and in “violation of the separation of powers doctrine and the nondelegation doctrine, thereby invalidating the Pandemic Order.”

The preamble, which states the resolution’s goal, says, “A Resolution of the Board of Androscoggin County Commissioners questioning the constitutionality of pandemic orders instituted by Governor Mills and any rules or guidelines promulgated or issued by state agencies acting under power delegated to such agencies by Governor Mills.”

The four-page document contains 32 preamble clauses, beginning with Lary’s argument that the mandates issued by the governor are unconstitutional and why he thinks the county has the power to act against the state.

Six of the clauses deal directly with what he claims is the county government’s authority, stating that county government was established “in Maine since colonial times, prior to statehood and the Declaration of Independence.” Being the “policy-determining body of the county,” the county commissioners have the authority and the power to operate the county “in an optimal businesslike manner and to provide services that are in the best interest of the county’s citizens.”

At last week’s meeting, Commissioners Noel Madore of Lewiston and John Michael of Auburn said the county did not have the power to override the governor’s emergency orders.

In his letter to commissioners last week telling them they were required to wear face coverings in public hearings, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey wrote, “The Executive Orders are constitutional and are enforceable through both civil and criminal processes. Also, counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions have no authority to exempt themselves from Executive Orders, and any effort to do so would be of no legal effect.”

The original resolution was postponed last week on a 4-3 vote, with Lary, Michael and Brian Ames of Lewiston voting no. Those three commissioners are the target of an effort to force a recall vote, which was started by a group of Androscoggin County citizens.

Nearly three dozen individuals, most without face coverings, attended last week’s meeting in support of Lary’s resolution.

While the crowd and Lary’s resolution questioned the science of wearing masks, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Human Services say face masks are highly effective in combating the virus.

“The scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of wearing masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 is clear and well established in the U.S. and globally,” Jackie Farwell, director of communications for the Maine DHHS said in a statement last week. “Based on this evidence, the U.S. CDC has called on Americans to wear masks as a powerful weapon to slow transmission of the virus, protect their communities, and get back to normal faster.”

In response to the letter from the attorney general, commission Chairwoman Sally Christner of Turner 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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