Although the Mountain Express claimed incorrectly in its July 24 editorial (“No mask, no mayor at City Hall”) that I did not abide by the Public Health Emergency Order, my hope is that it ends up creating a “teachable moment” for us all. A chance where we can all learn to spend a little more time listening to each other rather than amplifying the noise and drama. A chance for us to focus on how we can come together instead of casting aspersions. A chance for us all to be a little more reflective on what we can do to contribute to unity and understanding.

For me, the three teachable moments are 1) be sure to know the law; 2) be slow to point the finger; and 3) be quick to spread kindness to all around you.

Be sure to know the law

First, remember that long before masks were required by the Order, we have been advocating for their use at times when distancing cannot be achieved. Electronic signs, posters and public messages have all reiterated this message since April.

 The Public Health Emergency Order (the “Order”) requires that masks be worn in public places when indoors. It also states that masks should be worn in outdoor public places when safe distancing cannot be observed. “Public place” is defined in the Order as “any place open to all members of public without specific invitation.”

While City Hall may be a public building, under the definition of the Order, the offices and council chamber are not a “public place” because those areas are not open to all members of the public without specific invitation. Public access is restricted in City Hall in order to maintain safe distancing. We are being very careful to control the access and interaction with the community to ensure a safe environment for the public and staff. The public may not go beyond a specific area on the ground floor of the building. In that area, staff and the public are required to wear masks. The rest of City Hall, including the council chamber, is closed to the public.

There is no question that COVID makes the public process challenging. However, we do provide different ways to engage in the process through remote participation and providing written comments. During official public hearings, one person at a time is escorted into the building to provide testimony and then required to leave the building after doing so. A TV monitor outside City Hall displays the live proceedings inside the chambers and it is also streamed online.

The layout in the council chamber for staff and council has also changed for safety reasons. Seating for each staff and council member is placed at least 6 feet apart. With this layout, there is no room for public seating. The same protocols are in place for KURA meetings and P&Z meetings. Under these conditions, no masks are required according to the Order. Furthermore, the council and commissioners are always able to participate remotely.

Be slow to point the finger

Empathy and tolerance will benefit us well in these trying times. Take the time to understand others, take the time to inquire, and never assume we know what others are feeling or what challenges they face. I have heard heartbreaking stories from many community members that have taught me that often, not all is as it seems on the surface. For many reasons including medical exemptions, not everyone is legally required to wear a mask. A helping hand rather than judgmental glare will serve us well. We can build bridges this way–with our visitors and others in our community.  

Be quick to spread kindness to all around you

Please take the time to understand all the pressures that businesses and individuals are facing at this time. Physical, economic and mental health are all being challenged right now. There are times when frustration can boil over and manifest itself in many ways. A little patience and a deep breath can help us all. Words of love and encouragement can work wonders and can brighten up the day for others.

You got this Ketchum. Thanks for listening and for your support and understanding.

Neil Bradshaw is mayor of Ketchum.

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