Several contentious issues affected the West Lafayette city council’s Tuesday decision to renew fines associated with Mayor John Dennis’ executive mask order, despite a unanimous vote.
The weekend before the council’s meeting, a Twitter spat occurred between District 1 City Councilor Nick DeBoer and Arie Lipinski, the attorney who represented Michael Bryant in his July 25 lawsuit against Dennis’ July 13 mandate.
“He was basically just attacking me personally, my credibility as a lawyer,” Lipinski said. “It was disappointing to hear those comments from a city council member.”
Lipinksi, an attorney from Kokomo, Indiana, agreed to represent Bryant’s case because he believed the mask mandate should be handled legislatively rather than through an executive order. He and Bryant were connected through a mutual acquaintance.
Lipinski initially emailed a list of questions to several city officials, including Dennis and the city council, questioning the effectiveness of masks, the council’s consultation of public opinion and the use of city resources to enforce the mandate.
DeBoer, who temporarily deactivated his Twitter account following the exchange, expressed his frustration with Lipinski’s involvement in this issue.
“I got a little mad, I won’t lie,” he said. “I think we’re taking it seriously, and having an outside force, somebody from outside of our community, come in and try to undermine that ... I take moral outrage at that.”
DeBoer’s frustration led to some disparaging remarks. In his tweets, DeBoer labeled Lipinski as “a bad lawyer that shouldn’t try to think further than [his] natural limitations” and told him to “get the f--k out of my city and never come back.”
His defense, he said, is that his grievance “comes from a sincere place” and that the consequences of forsaking the mask mandate “could very well lead to death.”
In order to enact an ordinance involving fines, the council must hold two readings of the legislation, usually at two separate meetings, according to West Lafayette city attorney Eric Burns.
But because all nine councilors — eight Democrats and one Republican — supported the legislation, it passed in one session.
Several of the city councilors said fines to enforce the mandate, if necessary, are imperative to the health of the community.
“This is not a political issue, it’s not a constitutional rights issue, it’s a health issue,” said Larry Leverenz, city councilor for District 4, in Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re not imposing anything that’s unreasonable. All of the public health officials that I’ve heard say that wearing a mask helps.”
Councilor David Sanders, who is also teaching a course on COVID-19 at Purdue this fall, warned that masks do not completely eliminate the chance of exposure to the coronavirus, though.
“By asking people to wear masks, it potentially gives them a sense of invulnerability,” Sanders said. “Just because you’re wearing a mask doesn’t mean that participating in large indoor gatherings is safe.”
The executive order mandates the wearing of masks in all public buildings, businesses and transportation, as well as outdoors when social distancing is not possible, with exceptions for children and those with disabilities. The fines for infractions are set at $100 for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses.
Dennis thanked the city council for its involvement in reinstating the ordinance fines.
“This has been quite challenging,” Dennis said. “But as I said earlier, it is truly the right thing to do.”