John Michael, center, speaks privately with Brian Ames during a conversation Wednesday about the mask mandate at an Androscoggin County Commissioners meeting in Auburn. Sally Christner is on the right. Several commissioners were not wearing face coverings during the meeting. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission on Wednesday debated implementing a formal COVID-19 policy for its employees and staff.

The policy, drafted by Chairman Sally Christner, covers prevention, response and preparedness for dealing with a potential positive test or exposure to the virus. Her proposal deals primarily with notification of staff if someone in the county building comes in contact with the virus.

“It’s important that employees know we have a notification policy in place,” Christner said.

Her proposal says nothing about wearing masks.

“I did not address masks,” Christner said. “Maybe I should have. But I don’t know everyone’s work space. Are they alone in an office? I think that’s better addressed by the safety committee.”

Discussion soon devolved into a debate about wearing masks and what some commissioners called the overreach by Gov. Janet Mills with her mandates on wearing masks and COVID-19 response.

Four of the seven commissioners — Brian Ames of Lewiston, Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls, Isaiah Lary of Wales and John Michael of Auburn — did not wear masks at Wednesday’s meeting, nor did County Administrator Larry Post.

Not wearing masks in county office buildings for meetings open to the public violates the governor’s executive order, according to an email last week from Marc Malon, the legislative and press liaison for the Maine Attorney General’s Office. He added that the county is violating the executive order “which requires owners and operators of indoor public settings to enforce the face covering requirement in publicly accessible areas.”

The other three commissioners, Christner of Turner, and Lewiston commissioners Noel Madore and Roland Poirier, wore face coverings.

Throughout the pandemic, commissioners have not worn masks. Madore, the biggest proponent to mask wearing, was the first to do so, but that did not start until the Oct. 7 meeting.

Post admitted that he received correspondence from James Glessner, the state court administrator regarding the county’s COVID-19 protocols. He said he planned to talk to Gessner on Thursday.

Madore said there was a lack of attention to the pandemic and the governor’s orders in the county building. He expressed concerns that the county was not protecting its employees.

“There are many people in the building who are concerned about the lack of action taken by your office,” Madore said to Post.

“We have an issue,” Madore added.

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

Post disagreed, saying there is no major issues. He mentioned two times where he was warned for not wearing a mask — once while drinking coffee in the hallway and another while sitting alone in a room after hours.

Lary defended Post for what he described as an overreach. He said the governor’s actions were mandates, not laws, and she had exceeded her powers.

Michael wondered if they could close the commission meetings to the public and place them in a separate room where they could watch the proceedings on video if they were concerned about the lack of masks at meetings.

Ames said commissioners should not make any decision until the safety committee meets to discuss the proposal. Tom Reynolds, the register of probate and the chairman of the safety committee, said he would call a meeting next week to discuss Christner’s proposals and the ideas he heard from the other commissioners.

For it to be successful, Poirier said it is all about getting the staff to buy into the policy.

Lary did not sound convinced that any formal policy is needed.

“This has gone too far and trampled our constitutional rights,” Lary said.

“This needs to stop and we need to stop it now,” he added.

In other business, the commission agreed to change the hours of operation for county departments in the courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to align with the same hours — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — that the court offices are open. The vote was 5-2, with Lary and Kelly voting no.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.