County attorney says he won’t wear a mask
Clark County Attorney William D. Elkins indicated Tuesday that he will not wear a face mask when he goes out in public, even if Gov. Andy Beshear’s suggestion becomes an executive order.
“I decided much earlier than yesterday I wasn’t going to wear a mask. Any suggestion that I might be ordered to do so has not changed my mind,” Elkins told The Sun in a phone interview Tuesday evening.
The night before, he had posted a similar message on his personal Facebook page: “I’ve stayed home, I’ve isolated from my friends, I’ve worked extra hours everyday. I’ve respected the concerns of my neighbors, but the government will not touch my face with a mask. No way Governor Andy Beshear – I Will Not Wear your mask!”
Elkins said the Facebook post was a not an institutional pronouncement as county attorney, but a personal one. He said he would not be told he had to wear a mask in public.
He said his Facebook post was prompted by a news article he read Monday on the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Kentucky.com website through a Facebook link.
His understanding, he said, was that the governor’s suggestion had nothing to do with employees being required to wear masks, but referred to people going out in public, into stores, restaurants and other businesses.
“I think it’s an encroachment upon personal liberty to tell anybody they must do that,” he said.
As for whether he will wear a mask inside the County Attorney’s Office or in the courtroom, he said, “that’s a bridge I’ll have to cross” when the court system reopens. And that won’t happen on May 11, when Beshear has said he will begin to ease restrictions on some businesses. Chief Justice John Minton has said the courts won’t reopen until the end of May, and Beshear has not yet said when county and state government offices will reopen.
Elkins said in a text message Tuesday night that if the governor’s recommendation becomes an executive order, which is essentially a law, as a prosecutor, he has “a responsibility to protect the public from unconstitutional rules and I take that role seriously. If that happens I will take necessary steps to protect the public while leaving them free to voluntarily mask.”
Asked what constitutional provisions an executive order to require masks in public might violate, he listed Sections 1-4, 15 and 26 of the Kentucky Constitution and 1, 4, 5 and 14 of the U.S. Constitution.
In a statement released by the Governor’s Office Tuesday night following his daily press conference, Beshear said that everyone working for or visiting an essential business that is reopening May 11 should wear a mask.
“This isn’t something you can be fined for, and again no one is going to be arrested for not wearing a mask,” Beshear said. “But should you if you’re going to the grocery store? Yes. Think about it: None of us knows if we are infected but asymptomatic with this virus. This protects you and other people.”
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Well, you’re going to endanger my family members’ lives.’ Well, I’m not going to come to your house and endanger your family’s life. But if you come out in public and encounter me, you’re as big a risk to me as I am to you,” Elkins said. “In terms of all things being equal, that statement doesn’t hold water.”
What others said
Other county officials had differing thoughts on not wearing a mask in public.
“I understand where the county attorney is coming from on that,” County Judge-Executive Chris Pace said. “It’s a call that everybody has to make for themselves.”
Pace said he would wear a mask in public so as not to make other people feel uncomfortable being around him, but he doesn’t think “government should be infringing on people’s rights.”
If it were to become an executive order or a state regulation and Kentucky were to remain in a state of emergency, Pace said, he would comply with the law, but he thinks the order might face a legal challenge.
“That would make an interesting court case,” he remarked.
Sheriff Berl Perdue Jr. would not comment on Elkins and said he could speak only for himself, in regard to his own decision.
“My personal choice is to wear a mask,” he said. “I look at it as an extension of my office. I just think it’s a good example to set.”
Perdue said he has been to only two “box stores” in the past month and a half, and on one of those occasions he wore a mask and the other he didn’t, but he intends to wear one if he goes to one again.
County Coroner Robert Gayheart said he disagrees with Elkins’ decision.
Gayheart has been battling cancer, so his immune system is compromised by chemotherapy.
“As citizens, we should be wearing masks to protect other people, and I don’t look at this as being anything imposing on my rights,” he said.
Gayheart said that, for him, it would be like telling the elderly and people with health issues like himself that “it don’t matter, and I won’t do that.”
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