Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales is highlighted Wednesday night at the commission meeting conducted via Zoom. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal screenshot

AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission rejected the controversial anti-mask resolution proposed by Commissioner Isaiah Lary during a contentious meeting Wednesday evening.

The vote was 6-1, with Lary the only one voting in favor of his statement.

The resolution sought to reject the mask mandate ordered by Gov. Janet Mills.

While the public could not comment specifically on the Lary’s resolution, they had plenty to say about masks later in the meeting when discussing COVID-19 protocols in the county building and on the format of future commission meetings.

More than 90 people watched the meeting via Zoom. Some people were holding up signs in front of the camera opposing the wearing of masks.

Lary, of Wales, has questioned the governor’s constitutional authority to issue mandates, citing the nondelegation doctrine, which said the legislative branch may not cede its powers to make laws to the executive branch. He calls the executive orders from the governor a violation of the Maine Constitution.

Lary’s resolution resolved that “all citizens, businesses and visitors of Androscoggin County are free to wear or not wear masks or other similar devices, and to peaceably assemble for religious or secular reasons, according to the dictates of their own conscience and preference.”

The resolution, introduced at the commission’s meeting two weeks ago, was tabled following more than two hours of debate and public comment. Because the public comment session had ended, further public comment was not allowed unless the proposal was amended.

Lary objected to that, but found no support from the other six commissioners.

Speaking for many on the board, Commissioner John Michael of Auburn said the County Commission has “no legal authority to override the state so we have no jurisdiction on the matter.”

Twice, Lary offered amendments to the resolution, including an entirely new resolution that “strengthens the language” that forbids the county from enforcement of the mandate or even spending resources to enforce it. It also called on the county to proceed with challenging the executive orders before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Those motions also failed for the lack of a second.

“I find that this puts the county in a very poor spot,” Commissioner Noel Madore of Lewiston said.

Lary also attempted to suspend the rules to allow the public to speak, but that also received no support from the commissioners.

Chairwoman Sally Christner of Turner spoke about taking the oath to become commissioner, which states that she must follow the laws of the state.

“As a citizen I will fight to oppose laws that I disagree with,” Christner said. “But as a commissioner I will uphold them.”

She said supporting the resolution would only provide false hope to those opposed to masks because the county could not reject the mandate.

The vote was 6-1 to reject the resolution with Lary the only one supporting it.

The spectators opposed to masks finally got their say when commissioners considered COVID-19 protocols for the county employees who work in the building. The plan addresses prevention, reaction and preparedness for the virus and how to respond if someone tests positive in the courthouse.

Register of Probate Thomas Reynolds, who heads the county’s safety committee, said the plan was developed because employees had a feeling of “insecurity and not feeling safe” while working in the building.

Lary and many spectators objected to the line: “To reduce the risk of the virus spreading in the workplace, public will be required to wear a mask when in public areas in the county building.”

A long discussion followed against wearing masks, with some claiming that masks don’t work and others bemoaning the lack of exceptions for medical reasons.

Commissioner Brian Ames of Lewiston asked Reynolds to add a section that would address how the county could serve people who say they cannot wear masks.

Madore prodded commissioners that the policy was about protecting its employees, not about people’s views of masks. The policy was postponed to their next meeting.

With many interruptions, commissioners attempted to clarify the format for future meetings. The board finally agreed to hold its next meeting in public and allow spectators, as long as they wore either face masks or face shields.

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