AUBURN — All Auburn city councilors will now be required to wear face coverings during City Council meetings.

In a 4-3 vote Monday night, the council approved an order stipulating the council will follow Gov. Janet Mills’ recent executive order on face coverings, providing the clearest stance city officials have made on masking during meetings.

The order was introduced by Councilor Katie Boss after coronavirus cases have surged in Maine, including in Androscoggin County, which has seen a number of recent outbreaks and school closures.

In response to the governor’s executive order, Mayor Jason Levesque issued a statement last week that said he would not wear a mask when “actively presiding” over meetings in order to make the deliberation more clear for online viewers, but Levesque wore a mask throughout Monday’s meeting.

“The predicted surge in COVID is here in Maine and in our community,” Boss said Monday. “We in elected positions need to lead by example. There is significant risk of COVID transmission when people from different households spend long periods of time together indoors, unmasked.

“We need to make sure that the council chambers and City Hall are safe environments for those of us who dedicate our time to community service, for those who work for the city, and for all residents and visitors.”


Since the City Council resumed in-person meetings this spring, a handful of councilors have consistently worn face coverings, although following the recent executive order, they became required for city staff. Many other municipalities have continued to conduct meetings remotely.

The order Monday did not have unanimous backing, with councilors Stephen Milks, Leroy Walker and Belinda Gerry, who have not worn masks during meetings, voting against the measure.

Milks said repeatedly his stance on face coverings is “not about the mask, it’s about the people of Auburn,” who he said are struggling due to the state’s coronavirus-related restrictions.

“People should have a say in what happens to them,” he said. “When you order people around, and say put on a mask and shut up, this is an abuse of power. This state of emergency was not meant to go on and on.”

Later in the meeting, Milks introduced a council resolution urging the Maine Legislature to reconvene and asking Gov. Mills to rescind her executive orders. It passed 4-3, meaning the resolution will be sent to Augusta.

Levesque said his statement last week was based on how he interpreted the governor’s order, and that he was trying to “weigh the pros and cons” related to conducting meetings. He said he always wears a mask in public, but that face coverings are just one part of a “multilayered approach.”


In response to Milks’ comments, Boss said she agreed with him on how devastating the pandemic has been on families. But she argued if there were broad support and compliance with masking orders and other restrictions, there would be no surge right now.

When Levesque pushed back on Boss’ claim that “we’re always about three weeks from ending it,” she responded: “We’ve never implemented it. I mean, look at us tonight.”

Addressing Milks, Councilor Holly Lasagna said she also understood his stance, but said: “Minimally, we need to look at (masks) as a separate issue from the financial pain we’re all going through. That should not effect our decision to wear a mask to keep ourselves healthy.”

Prior to the vote, Councilor Gerry made a motion to amend the order, which would have allowed councilors to remove masks while seated. It would have also deemed the council chamber as a “nonpublic setting,” where officials could conduct meetings in a “noncompromised environment.”

Officials said the amendment went against what they were advised by legal counsel regarding public access. The adjacent “community room” on the second floor of Auburn Hall is open during council meetings, with livestreaming and the ability for public comment.

Boss added, “Not having public access to this floor does not change that any one of us could have exposure and bring it in.”


Councilor Brian Carrier, who voted in favor of Milks’ resolution, also voted in favor of the mask requirement. He said following feedback from the city attorney, “we should probably adhere to the same rules that staff has to.”

In her earlier statement, Boss said: “People across our community, the state, the nation, the world are putting on masks and protective gear every day to control the spread of this virus. It is not preferred by anyone — ask any teacher right now if they enjoy teaching with a mask on — but it is absolutely necessary. It is not desirable, but it is possible to wear a mask and do complicated jobs.”

About his resolution, Milks said residents “have no recourse” and “people are being told to sit down and shut up.”

“That’s not American,” Milks said. “That’s not how this state is supposed to run. People are supposed to have a say in what happens to them. It’s devastating to our society. We must go back to legitimate governance.”

The resolution states that while the Auburn City Council “takes the virus very seriously,” the state restrictions have more “far-reaching consequences” than COVID-19.

Lasagna, explaining her reasons for not supporting the resolution, said the state-mandated restrictions and state of emergency are the results of a “once in a lifetime” crisis.

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