Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey sent letters to commissioners in Piscataquis and Androscoggin counties this week reminding them that they are legally required to wear masks at their meetings after recent controversies around their meetings.
In Androscoggin County, the letter follows a contentious week for the commissioners who voted 4-3 on Wednesday to postpone a resolution that would defy a statewide mask mandate enacted by Gov. Janet Mills. Attendees from Androscoggin, Kennebec and Oxford counties were opposed to the commissioners’ vote, with many calling them “cowards” for their decision.
In the similar letter sent to both counties, Frey said he received reports that commissioners and meeting attendees were not wearing masks at recent meetings. Frey said commissioners are legally obligated to require that all those who attend wear face coverings.
Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, introduced an anti-mask resolution on Tuesday stating that Mills’ executive orders “restrict the liberty of Maine citizens to dress, work, exercise their religion, assemble, shop and conduct lives as they choose” while questioning the effectiveness of face coverings.
In a Friday letter to the Androscoggin commission, Frey said that counties and municipalities have no authority to exempt themselves from the governor’s executive orders.
“To the extent this resolution is premised on the notion that the Executive Orders are not constitutional, I want to assure you, as Maine’s chief law enforcement officer, that the Executive Orders are constitutional, and as noted above, enforceable through both civil and criminal processes,” he wrote.
The Democrat also added that masks are “one of the most powerful weapons” to combat the coronavirus, recognized as effective by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only children under the age of 2 are exempt from the mask order.
However, Lary questioned Frey’s authority to decide the constitutionality of the mask mandate saying that Frey’s letter was a matter of opinion.
“The Attorney General does not have the authority to decide whether the executive orders issued by Gov. Mills based on the Maine Emergency Management statutes are constitutional or not,” Lary told the Lewiston Sun Journal. “He has given his opinion, but ultimately, that is an issue that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court would have to decide.”
But Christner told the Sun Journal she hoped the issue would have gotten resolved before Frey got involved, saying she expects a decision on the resolution to come in the coming weeks.