In this Dec. 8, 2020, file photo, a sign equates mask wearing with caring for neighbors in downtown Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

An Androscoggin County commissioner targeted for recall is now escalating a fight over the statewide mask mandate with a new resolution to ban county officials from enforcing it.

Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales submitted the four-page resolution on Wednesday, which would ban county employees, funds and equipment from being used to enforce a “pandemic order,” according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

In the resolution, Lary said that county government was established “prior to statehood and the Declaration of Independence,” and that the commissioners as the “policy-determining body” for Androscoggin County have the authority to override Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, a claim that others on the board, Noel Madore of Lewiston and John Michael of Auburn, have disputed.

The document also calls for the county administrator to challenge the constitutionality of the mask mandate and other virus restrictions before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the newspaper reported.

It’s the latest salvo in a simmering controversy over masking up that has divided the county board.

Lary, who has not worn a mask at commission meetings, introduced a resolution last week that called for county residents and visitors to decide for themselves whether to mask up. It stated that the governor’s executive orders “restrict the liberty of Maine citizens to dress, work, exercise their religion, assemble, shop and conduct lives as they choose.”

But commissioners voted 4-3 to table the resolution last Wednesday for two weeks to consider alternatives, prompting some of those who attended that meeting to call them “cowards” and cry “shame.”

Now, Lary, Michael and Brian Ames of Lewiston, all of whom voted against tabling the earlier resolution, are being targeted for recall by a group that has criticized the three commissioners for turning pandemic restrictions into “a political game.”

After their vote to table the resolution, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey sent a letter to the commissioners, as well as the Piscataquis County commissioners who have adopted an anti-mask resolution, defending the constitutionality of the order and telling them they and anyone who attends meetings are required to wear masks.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said last week that his staff won’t attend county commission meetings in person if people continue to forgo the use of masks, citing safety concerns.