At-large City Councilor Claude Rwaganje, right, debates against the proposal made by Ward 5 Councilor Elliot Storey, left, to remove COVID-19 mandates in the city. Screenshot / Zoom

A proposal from Westbrook City Councilor Elliot Storey that the city lift all COVID-19 safety mandates, including requiring face masks and restricting the size of gatherings, was quickly shot down by other councilors Monday night.

Echoing his protest in November about being required to wear a mask at council meetings, Storey said the COVID-19 mandates are government overreach and that personal freedom is at stake.

“People who choose to practice these practices should and may continue to do so,” Storey said, “but businesses and citizens that wish to choose to take control of their own health can choose which protocols and measures to leave in place for themselves.”

He said the mandates “are unenforceable and rely on a tattle-tale system.”

“We owe it to our constituents to let them decide what is right for their well-being, which goes far beyond the threat of potentially catching a virus,” he said.

Removing the mandates would prevent the “next step of control,” Storey said, and likened stories about neighbors reporting neighbors for disobeying CDC guidelines on gathering sizes to the Gestapo, or German Nazi Secret Police.

“When you compare something to or invoke Nazis in an argument, you lose the argument,” Ward 3 Councilor Anna Turcotte said.

Turcotte and the rest of the council took no action on Storey’s proposal, effectively killing it.

Ward 1 Councilor David Morse said Storey was wrong to suggest that city government had “asserted control or restricted freedom.”

In every instance, I can think of that has come up over the year when a person or business seems to be falling short in their responsibilities under the orders, the response from the city has been to educate or support them to ensure the business can continue to operate or the public can stay healthy,” Morse said. 

Storey told the American Journal that the worst story he has heard involved a couple he knows who live in Massachusetts but own a second home in Maine. He declined to provide the couple’s names or where their second home is located, but said they were heading to the second home for a visit.

“They stopped for gas around Bangor. Shortly after arriving at their place, the police knock on their door,” Storey said.

The couple told police they also live in Maine and that they planned to quarantine, to which the police responded with a photo of them at the gas station and then fined them $1,000, Storey said.

At-large Councilor Claude Rwaganje noted that the number of local cases of COVID-19 are going down.

“That is a positive sign, but we must continue to do what we have to make it that way,” Rwaganje said.

Mayor Mike Foley also spoke against Storey’s proposal.

“Our community has done an outstanding job responding to the difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Foley said. “Our municipality does not have the authority to do what is suggested in this referral, and beyond that, now is not the time to let our guard down.”

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