Columbus City Council lifted its citywide mask mandate at its regular meeting Tuesday night, though not without some tense back and forth between two council members.
The council voted 4-1 to require face coverings only in city buildings. Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens opposed.
“I think we’re making a huge mistake here,” Mickens said before the vote. “I’ve got to totally disagree with you on this one. What I’m hearing, what the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is saying now, (is) that we’ve got an uptick with a new virus coming out now. But now we get a little pressure on us, we want to hunker down and get rid of the mask.
“It’s not right,” he added. “The CDC has not changed their standard. I don’t care what the governor says. The CDC has not changed their standard, so why would we?”
The city has required citizens to wear face coverings in businesses and city-owned buildings in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19 since July, even after Gov. Tate Reeves ended the statewide mask mandate on March 2.
While state and local numbers are down — Vice Mayor Bill Gavin said there was only one COVID-19 case in Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle when he checked with hospital officials last week — national numbers are trending up, and health officials have warned of a new variant of the virus that could spread.
Gavin, who presided over the meeting because Mayor Robert Smith is still under the care of doctors after a stint in Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in February, specified during the meeting that businesses may still require customers to wear masks in their buildings if they wish, and that citizens could choose to wear masks as well.
Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones, who had moved to end the mandate, said city police officers have not been enforcing the mandate, and he didn’t see the point in having one that isn’t enforced.
“Why have an ordinance if we’re not going to enforce it?” Jones said.
Mickens spoke over him: “That’s no reason.”
“I’m speaking, like you just said,” Jones said. “… That’s my opinion. … If it was definitely being enforced, then it would be a different (story). It’s basically the same thing — people who want to wear them, wear them. People who don’t want to wear them won’t wear them.”
The council’s decision came on the first day this year that council meetings were reopened to in-person public attendance, though citizens may still livestream the meetings on the city’s website at thecityofcolumbus.org or the City of Columbus, MS – Mayor’s Office Facebook page.
Patio 45 Restaurant
The council also heard complaints from citizens who live in the Holly Hills neighborhood who said they could hear loud and sometimes vulgar music coming from Patio 45 Restaurant on Highway 45 North.
Curtis Bordenave, who owns the restaurant with his wife Eurie Bordenave, spoke first, saying he has invested in sound-measuring equipment to test the decibels the restaurant speakers emit and said his speakers do not emit sounds more than 50 decibels.
He said businesses on either side of his restaurant have not complained, and he invited the council members to visit the restaurant and listen to the music themselves, even offering to pay for police to come sit in his parking lot on a weekend night to make sure it isn’t turned up too loud.
Bordenave then asked the council to clarify the city’s noise ordinance to a particular decibel, drawing a comparison between that and speed limits for traffic.
“You can’t give us a speeding ticket without some type of speeding sign posted,” he said.
But residents from the neighborhood directly behind Patio 45 said they could hear the music from within their homes, claiming the beat from the base rattles their windows and that they could hear “the F word” and other profanities from their homes on Easter Sunday.
“We’re not trying to shut anybody down,” said resident Larry Wayne Jeona. “We just want to have a peace(ful) and quiet neighborhood.”
Jeona also invited council members to his home to hear the music from his house.
“We’ll sit in there and drink and have a good time and listen to the music on a Friday or Saturday night,” he said. “The later it gets, the louder it gets.”
The city noise ordinance currently forbids businesses and individuals from playing loud music or otherwise making loud noises after 11 p.m., Police Chief Fred Shelton said. However, the ordinance does not specify a decibel amount.
Shelton said at the meeting his officers have been called out to the restaurant several times, but the noise has never been loud enough for them to issue a citation. He added he’s driven through the area himself just to see if he could hear it.
“Sometimes I could hear it and sometimes I could not,” he said.
Patio 45 received a permitted use variance to open in 2019, said Gavin and Zoning/Inspection Department head Kenneth Wiegel, at which time Bordenave specifically said he would not play loud music.
“At that time, you just told me you were going to have a home stereo system that was going to play quiet music for the restaurant,” Gavin said. “We talked about this noise issue, and in this meeting. You have a special permit granted by the city council to operate this business. I supported you and voted for you to have that permit. Had I known you were going to do this, I would never have voted for that. I know these people. … I’ve been up to your place late at night. I’ve heard the music. In my opinion, it’s loud.”
Gavin said he feels it’s the speakers of the live musicians hired to play on the weekends rather than the restaurant’s speakers that are bothering residents.
The council voted 4-1 to table any action and give City Attorney Jeff Turnage time to look over the city’s noise ordinance and see if it would be improved by specifying a particular decibel amount. Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, who had said during the discussion that he feels the music is too loud, was the opposing vote.