Charleston city councilwoman speaks out after given mask ultimatum during meeting
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Newly elected Charleston City Councilwoman Caroline Parker is speaking out against how the city applies its mask mandate after she was given an ultimatum during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Parker, who does not wear a mask during city council meetings, was told she would need to put on a mask or leave and join the meeting virtually.
Mayor John Tecklenburg gave Parker the choice after Councilmember William Gregorie prompted him, asking a redundant question about whether everyone should be wearing a mask.
“It’s a city policy, in a city building. So I would ask everybody in the room, including Councilmember Parker, to please wear a mask while they’re here,” Tecklenburg said. “If you’re not willing to wear a mask, you can attend the meeting virtually, either on your phone or online.”
Tecklenburg also offered Parker a city office across the hall where she could join the meeting virtually.
“In that moment felt like, I’ll just leave,” Parker said. “It’s already an uncomfortable situation so I am not going to do something that will make me feel more uncomfortable. Especially, like I said, it felt like Councilmen Gregorie just didn’t want me there.”
Parker, who was sworn in on Jan. 11 and is the only woman on council, was the lone member not wearing mask. She opted to join the meeting virtually from outside City Hall. She believed the mask mandate would still apply even in an office across the hall, however the written rule suggests a mask is not required in non-public areas where social distancing can be accommodated.
As a result of technical issues, Parker was unable to attend executive session.
“I would really like to know why I was excluded from executive session,” Parker said. “I would assume they would have held off on executive session until I got in but that didn’t happen. And it happened and they said, you know, it was no big deal. It is a big deal. I mean, I’m an elected official, it’s executive session.”
Council member Peter Shahid says he was under the impression that city staff sent her a link that could be used to access executive session but that she was having trouble getting it to work.
“I respect her decision, but she elected to not use what was set up for her then that was her choice,” Shahid said. “She has to live with the consequences. It was her decision to use a different device that didn’t work, didn’t log in. I’m sorry.”
Parker says she understands the mask rule and accepted that she would have to attend virtually, however she says it’s unacceptable for her to be excluded from executive session. Earlier in the night the mayor said the executive session was a matter of significance.
“It’s a legal matter, a settlement that calls for a quick response. Senator Sandy Senn has been representing us on the opioid lawsuit, litigation that we have been involved in,” Tecklenburg said. “This is a matter that needs our immediate attention.”
“It’s been two years now where they have been doing Zoom council meetings, and probably executive sessions via zoom,” Parker said. “So certainly, there would have been a, you know, an ability of making this happen.”
Parker says she felt targeted by Gregorie, arguing that the mask rules are not being followed by most of the council members. During the meeting, members of the public, city staff and council members can be seen removing their masks to speak. The mayor gave his entire 15-minute State of the City address without a mask.
The city’s mask mandate is purely an administrative rule, not something voted on by council. The rule is as follows:
Due to the continued high number of Covid-19 cases statewide, the city of Charleston will continue to ask all visitors to city offices and buildings to wear masks while inside, regardless of vaccination status. All city employees are also required to wear masks in indoor common areas and when unable to socially distance from others.
Enforcement of the rule is subject to council as a body. Shahid says he can’t recall the mask requirement being enforced on a city council member before.
“I don’t think it needed to be,” Shahid said. “I think people participated and followed along.”
Parker says the mandate in inconsistently applied.
“During an earlier meeting Councilmember Gregory was staring directly at another council member while speaking and he’s not wearing a mask and it doesn’t seem to be an issue,” Parker said. “But it was certainly an issue when I sat down at my desk. So it’s disappointing”
Video from the January 11 city council meeting shows councilmember Gregorie without a mask as other council member debate.
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