Village of Williamsville votes to pay $300 Erie County mask violation fine
The Village of Williamsville's board has voted narrowly to pay the mask violation fine that was issued to the village on Jan. 12 for its board meeting held on Jan. 10.
Deputy Mayor David Sherman, empowered by the passed resolution, will sign the stipulation and pay the $300 fine on Jan. 25, in the place of Mayor Deb Rogers.
"I've been involved, as a journalist, in a lot of controversies and give and takes with government at all levels. And this was probably the first time I had to make a decision of this magnitude. And I also very touched by Matt's [Carson] words and I've been touched regularly by people who value our good name of the Village of Williamsville. And I reluctantly vote yes," Sherman said.
This is a change of direction from where the Village had been potentially heading. Last week, on Thursday, the board held a special meeting to appoint counsel to potentially represent the village at a hearing with the county.
That narrowly passed, with the board retaining local attorney Todd Aldinger. Aldinger had agreed to not charge the village to retain him, only to charge fees if they used his representation in the hearings. The vote was 3-2, with Rogers, Sherman and newly-appointed trustee Matt Carson voting in favor and Trustees Eileen Torre and Christine Hunt opposed to retaining counsel.
If the village had moved to the hearing phase, thus passing up paying the fine, they would have risked paying up to $1,000 in a penalty if found liable, in addition to any fees from Aldinger.
The vote to pay the fine came down to Hunt, Torre and Sherman voting in favor. All three spoke very briefly. Torre had first proposed the resolution during the board's special meeting last Thursday.
Hunt and Torre had previously voted against the village's resolution opposing mask mandates, as well as the hiring of counsel. Sherman however, until this point, had been voting in favor of the resolutions to oppose mandates and hire counsel, proposed by Rogers.
Carson and Rogers have both previously voted in favor of the resolution, the hiring of counsel and, now, against paying the fine.
Carson was the first one to vote and gave a speech that ran about eight minutes before proposing to table the resolution, and then eventually voting against paying the fine. In an emotional speech, he talked about his religious beliefs.
"I'm a resident of Williamsville, a trustee, a husband, a father, but a Christian first," Carson said.
He then continued to talk about his Christian faith, bringing up the Sermon on the Mount.
"Some of these verses are: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. And finally, seek first His righteousness and all these things will be given to you. So what is righteousness that Jesus is talking about? Righteousness is doing what is right and just. The right thing is very important to our community. Our country is founded on Christian principles. It's still written on our money," Carson said, holding up a $50 bill to the camera. "That's 'In God We Trust' backwards. Notice how it doesn't say 'in science we trust.' So given this framework of loving God and His righteousness, let's talk about the mask mandate."
He then went on to talk about several points, including how he feels the mask mandate has impacted his family, and questioning how the mask mandate was enforced in Williamsville compared to other communities or stores. He also shared a statement of empathy for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
"I love my family. I love my neighbors, love all of you, every one of you. And I love our county executive. Mr. Poloncarz, I'm talking to you, I pray for you all the time. Only after... I've only been a trustee for two weeks, and I appreciate how difficult it is to be in the public eye. It's really hard. I've lost a lot of sleep. I can't imagine what you have to go through," Carson said.
He then asked that Poloncarz, who did not appear to be in the meeting, reconsider the violation, and then asked the board to table the resolution to pay the fine, saying "let's give the county time to respond."
He finished by saying "I think it'd be good to let us take a step back, a breather, let the dust settle. Jesus, your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thank you."
Hunt followed Carson, thanking him for his words, saying that they were "very moving."
"I appreciate your words, they were... I think are well thought out. And in true in a lot of ways, you know, especially based on religious beliefs. But, I am no scientist nor doctor. I trust the science. I believe in God, but I trust the science. So, I will ask that we put aside this disagreement, understanding that we agree to disagree, to quote Basil [Piazza], the former trustee, and put this to rest by voting yes for this resolution. Thank you," Hunt said.
Torre gave no statement, only saying "yes." Sherman spoke next, giving the statement that was quoted at the top of this article.
Rogers then asked Carson to vote, since no one seconded his motion to table the resolution.
"I would... I will say I'm not ever going to be yes, but I'm a no for now. I would like to hear from the county. So that I'm not saying I wouldn't vote yes at some point because I think that the money is way too much. No for now," Carson said.
Rogers was the last to vote, she spoke for a little over a minute, saying in part:
"I will also agree that this issue has caused a great deal of tension in our village. And it has essentially divided much of the village as well. So I want to acknowledge that as well. And however, as I've stated previously, by signing the stipulation, the Village of Williamsville does admit to full responsibility for the enforcement of the mask rules, liability and guilt."
She went on to say that she feels the stipulation is "nothing more than a targeted retribution, issued as a result of the village board voicing a civil debate over mandates. This tells us and this means that if you challenge or if you speak out, or if you question, you will be targeted by the Erie County Department of Health in an effort to be silenced. And with that, I vote no."
Per the resolution that passed, if Rogers declined to sign the stipulation, Sherman would be empowered to sign it on behalf of the board.
"Deputy Mayor Sherman, you will be signing stipulation then. Is that correct?" Rogers asked after the resolution passed.
"I plan to sign the stipulation tomorrow at Village Hall in person," Sherman said.