Commissioners' ongoing disagreements over Chair Tootie Smith's recent resolution urging the state to reevaluate future COVID-19 vaccine mandates reached a boiling point on Thursday, resulting in a 3-2 vote to table the resolution, overruling Smith's refusal to call an official poll on the matter.
Despite multiple revisions to the resolution's original language, commissioners remained at odds over whether or not the document's overall message was consistent with the board's fundamental responsibilities to county residents.
Smith and county staff originally drafted the resolution on Sept. 16, intended to address sectors of the workforce "overwhelmed" by the prospect of vaccine mandates and concerned about being terminated from employment upon refusal to get their shots.
Smith presented the first draft to the board on Tuesday, with Commissioners Paul Savas, Martha Schrader, Mark Shull and Smith agreeing to revisit the resolution on Thursday after revising its language in the interest of clarity and transparency of intent.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer opposed the resolution from the beginning, suggesting the board instead continue with their work promoting health and safety measures as the public health authority, possibly revisiting the idea of a resolution regarding vaccine mandates later down the line if mandates ultimately prove detrimental to county residents.
Thursday's updated language was not enough to sway Fischer, who remained staunch in her stance that the resolution's message could be perceived as trying to create more loopholes for workers to avoid vaccinations.
"When we are talking about our health workforce, we could really use the advice of the experts that are part of our public health advisory council," Fischer said.
Schrader, who said she came into the meeting undecided about how she would vote, ultimately reached the conclusion that she could not support the resolution due to her strong belief in vaccines as the solution to the ongoing pandemic.
"I won't be supporting this today and here's why: I think the whole issue that we're dealing with here is that the word mandate. And I think it's unfortunate that that's kind of what the discussion has become about — 'mandate' — instead of what I call community responsibility to one another as brothers and sisters and citizens. And and the notion from my perspective, there is a community responsibility to be vaccinated," Schrader said.
Savas, who between Tuesday and Thursday conceptualized multiple revisions to the resolution's first draft, did not want to adopt the resolution in a split vote, ultimately motioning to table the resolution to avoid sending mixed messages to the county.
"I think if it's not unanimous, then it's going to send the wrong message. It's going to be political football, and I'm tired of politics. I'm exhausted. This is about people's lives, for crying out loud," Savas said. "That's why I deliberately changed the language to recognize those folks. And if we can't do that, if we don't believe that, then that's a sad, sad state of affairs."
Shull, however, remained in favor of the resolution, motioning to adopt it with its updated language, which Smith seconded.
"We can pencil with this thing until the cows come home," Shull said. "We've talked about it. We've got a revised resolution here. I move that we adopt this resolution."
"As the leader of this commission, I have given and given...and compromised and compromised...and I don't see it out of either one of you two," Smith said, referring to Fischer and Schrader. "You've dug your feet in and you are determined to take this down and not support our county workforce. And yes, I'm angry."
When the time came to make a decision, Smith refused to call an official poll, resulting in Savas, Schrader and Fischer voting to table the resolution in an overrule, Smith and Shull dissenting.
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