In this Nov. 6, 2020, file photo, a pair of pedestrians wear masks in Portland while walking by a sign urging them to do so. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Androscoggin commissioners have approved COVID-19 safety protocols for county employees weeks after they were proposed and the body became embroiled in a controversy over the state’s mask mandate.

The Sun Journal reported that the commission voted 6-1 to pass the protocols, which include a mask requirement for public spaces and a procedure for notifying employees about potential outbreaks or virus exposure.

Only Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, who last month pushed for the commission to defy the statewide mask mandate, voted against the measure. He also alone opposed other measures to approve meeting minutes, pay the county’s bills and adjourn the meeting, according to the newspaper.

The protocols were first introduced in January.

Lary, who has not worn a mask at commission meetings, introduced a resolution last month calling for county residents and visitors to decide for themselves whether to mask up. It stated that Gov. Janet Mills’ 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 on Feb. 3 to table the resolution for two weeks to consider alternatives, prompting some of those who attended that meeting to call them “cowards” and cry “shame.”

Days later Lary submitted the four-page resolution to ban county employees, funds and equipment from being used to enforce a “pandemic order,” and laying out an argument for why he believes the commissioners as the “policy-determining body” for Androscoggin County have the authority to override the governor, an interpretation other commissioners rejected as lacking a legal basis.

The commission on Feb. 18 rejected the resolution in a 6-1 vote, with only Lary voting to approve it.

The controversy over the resolution and infrequent mask wearing during commission meetings prompted Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey to write to the commissioners last month 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 month that his staff won’t attend county commission meetings in person if people continue to forgo the use of masks, citing safety concerns.