Williamsville approves resolution opposing all state, county COVID-19 mandates and their enforcement
The Village of Williamsville approved a resolution on Monday night "opposing any further New York State and Erie County mask mandates, vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions," as well as the enforcement of those mandates.
Board Trustees Eileen Torre and Christine Hunt voted "no" after giving a brief statement. Newly-appointed Deputy Mayor David Sherman and Trustee Matt Carson both voted "yes" after their own statements. The board's division echoed the energy of those in attendance.
“As a village government, we do not have control over any mandates issued by the state or county. And we must always comply and abide by all orders that are set forth by the state, county, and our local health department of New York State. New York State and the New York State Department of Health have expended enormous resources to study and understand the public health issues that have taken the lives of over 60,000 New Yorkers. And we should not second guess those authorities with our own personal opinions. This village board needs to concentrate on the business of the village residents, including their health and safety, and not waste time grandstanding politically, to gain favor for a very vocal minority," said Trustee Torre.
"I represent, I was elected to represent the community as a whole," Hunt said. "While I understand everybody's views, I vote no. I will not vote for this resolution. We have very pressing issues just within our community, our one square mile, that really will benefit all of our constituents. And those are the things I would like to focus my time and energy on."
Mayor Deborah Rogers gave the last statement in which she said she believes people should have the freedom of choice regarding vaccination and masks, and then voted "yes."
“You're damn straight that I'm going to question everything that comes out as an elected official. And I'm not doing it to be divisive. I'm doing it to stand up for freedoms and rights. I do not want to see a vaccine mandate enforced on anyone who is uncomfortable taking it," Rogers said, in part.
Carson's statement had similarly focused on individual decisions.
"The thing I like about this resolution is it kind of meets in the middle, right? So it empowers businesses, to make their own mandates, right? It isn't a top-down, kind of thing like the state keeps doing to us, the county keeps showing to us, right? A business owner is able to set their own rules, you know if they don't want people to enter without a mask, put that on the door. And I would pray that people respect that. If they want anyone to enter without a mask, god bless them, right? You know, each business has their own level of risks, and they know their customers. They know maybe it'll affect them positively, maybe negatively. But let's give them that choice, right? Why make rules that divide so much? So I vote yes."
Sherman's statement was mostly about his experiences as a volunteer firefighter and the decision-making that the firefighters and their companies have to make regarding risk, as a comparison. He shared as an example that he believes mandating the Williamsville firemen to mask or be vaccinated would be detrimental.
"I just can't see putting... putting that burden of mandatory vaccination, mandatory masking. It's a personal choice," Sherman said before voting yes.
Hunt, Torre and Sherman were masked throughout the meeting. Carson could often be seen with his mask below his chin through the voting. Rogers was not masked. Several village residents spoke unmasked during the public comment period and over 40 people attended by Zoom.
The zip code that encompasses Williamsville, along with Amherst and Clarence (14221) is among many communities locally that have had high COVID case rates. Erie County reported in its last press conference, that for the week ending on January 1, zip code 14221 had 812 cases, and was seeing a weekly rolling average of 216 new cases daily per 100,000 people.
According to New York State, 85.1 percent of people in this zip code have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 79.1 percent of people had at least two doses.
During the public comment period, several villagers began yelling at each other over who could talk and arguing about issues with the call, including one villager who could not be heard by the board. Many others speaking by Zoom spoke against the resolution.
"I feel safer entering businesses that have effective public safety measures in effect because these measures indicate that the people in our village care about the citizens, the employees and the health care workers in and around this village," said Village of Williamsville resident Jessica Poulin, one of many who spoke by Zoom at Monday’s board meeting. "This is incredibly dangerous. And I am deeply concerned about this as a taxpayer. I urge the board to vote against this resolution. And please get back to the actual business of running a prospering village and dealing with matters that they have control over."
There were individuals in support of the resolution, including many who attended in person.
"Why should I stay here? That's my question. Why should I stay in this village? When everybody's telling me what I have to do, what I don't have to do, what all my kids can or can't do, to enjoy a livelihood in this village, in this county and in this state," said village resident TJ Steward said about the current mandates.
The resolution does not include what the village would do if the county or the state tried to enforce any current or future mandates, only that copies of the resolution would be forwarded to the Governor and other state and local elected officials. We will continue to follow this story and provide more information as it becomes available.
The map at the top of this story shows the boundaries of the Village of Williamsville. The Village of Williamsville is within zip code 14221, but does not make up the entirety of zip code 14221; there are several other communities with their own governments within this zip.