Westbrook Councilor Elliot Storey did not wear a face covering at the start of Monday’s meeting. After the council approved a policy requiring all councilors to wear masks during meetings, he put on a Guy Fawkes mask as a protest statement. Screen shot / WCTV

WESTBROOK — The City Council Monday set a policy requiring councilors to wear face masks during meetings but not without a protest about constitutional liberties from Ward 5 Councilor Elliot Storey.

Storey spoke out against the mask policy, approved 6-1, saying it is a part of “government overreach.” After the policy’s approval, Storey put on a Guy Fawkes mask.

The policy was formalized specifically because Storey has not worn a face mask to previous meetings, Council President Gary Rairdon and Mayor Mike Foley wrote in a letter to Storey released a few hours before the meeting.

Council President Gary Rairdon reads an order requiring all councilors to wear masks to meetings. According to a letter written by Rairdon, the policy was brought to the table specifically because of Ward 5 Councilor Elliot Storey’s previous refusal to wear a mask. Screen shot / WCTV

“You have elected not to wear facial coverings, and we have received complaints from your fellow City Councilors as well as the public that this puts their health and safety at risk,” the letter said. “We have both spoken to you about this request in an effort to avoid consideration of this order and you have refused to comply.”

If Storey continued to not wear a mask, he would have to participate in the council meetings remotely from another room, they said.

Storey said the governor’s recent mask mandate in an effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus and her previous lockdowns are “draconian.” Because he was furloughed from his job as a project manager at Stantec and because the pandemic measures have impacted his wife’s work, he “felt the need to not comply,” he said.

Following the policy’s approval, Storey, who started the meeting off without a mask, put on a Guy Fawkes mask. The mask depicts the face of the man who was a conspirator in a  failed attempt in 1605 to blow up British Parliament and was hanged as a traitor. Made popular in the 2005 film “V for Vendetta,” the Guy Fawkes mask has come to represent protest worldwide.

In an email to the American Journal after the meeting, Storey said “while I have been on the losing end of more than my fair share of 6-1 votes,” the mask shows he is now in open opposition of the Westbrook City Council and administration.”

“They want to take away liberties, I want to preserve them,” Storey said. “They hate the Bill of Rights, I love it. They trod all over the Constitution, and I uphold it as I swore I would.”

Storey said his issue with the governor’s recent mask mandate is the “expanded definition of the word public” to include private gatherings, and private businesses have been impacted all along by a mask mandate, he said.  In turn, he wouldn’t support the city policy.

My house is not public. Your business is not public,” Storey said at the meeting.We deserve the responsibility to decide for ourselves the risks we take each day to enter establishments. We should be able to choose who to offer and refuse service to, and it’s our government’s function to preserve private property. I’ll be up here fighting when they come for your guns. I’ll be up here for you. It saddens me to be alone in that fight, at least on this stage but I am not alone in the community.”

Storey referred to studies, including one conducted in the country of Denmark, which pointing towards the ineffectiveness of masks, saying “masks do not work.”

According to data presented by the CDC, cloth face masks reduce transmission rates of the coronavirus because they absorb droplets in the air upon exhale. Some studies the CDC references found that masks have reduced transmission rates of the virus from within a single home by 79%, and curbed transmission rates in other cases.

At-large Councilor Claude Rwaganje said wearing or not wearing of a mask is “not a political statement.”

“It’s the only thing we can rely on to protect our citizens, families. Basically, that’s the only thing close to a vaccine we have at the moment. If I am not protecting myself, I am protecting my neighbor, my mom, my dad,” Rwaganje said.

“It’s unfortunate we have to take this time for a common sense topic,” he said. “It’s not a big deal to wear a mask.”

Every other councilor also spoke in favor of the policy.

“I’ve lost two people to COVID. It’s unpredictable. I am not going to take the chance because I am self-centered,” said Ward 3 Councilor Anna Turcotte.

Storey told the American Journal after the meeting that Foley told him he can’t continue to wear the Guy Fawkes mask because it is not made of cloth.

“Mills’ initial or one early subsequent order gives some guidelines/definitions on what a cloth face covering is. There is definitely some gray area,” Storey said. “The mask may be permanent. It may or may not have an approved covering underneath. Foley said I could wear it over. Over is ridiculous. Underneath may be necessary. I will continue to fight.”

Ward 5 Councilor Elliot Storey, left, and at-large Councilor Claude Rwaganje. Rwaganje spoke in favor of the mask policy, saying that wearing a mask “isn’t hard.” Storey, who spoke against the mask, wore a costume mask as a political statement in response to the approval. Screen shot / WCTV

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