MOUNT JACKSON — The Mount Jackson Town Council on Tuesday rescinded its requirement that all town employees must be vaccinated by Nov. 1.
The discussion was tabled until the council’s Nov. 9 meeting.
Last month the Town Council approved the requirement by a 4-2 vote. Mount Jackson Town Manager Neil Showalter said on Tuesday that he needs more direction from the council on a number of things regarding the policy, including whether unvaccinated employees would have alternatives and what disciplinary action they would face.
Showalter said seven out of the town’s 20 employees are not fully vaccinated, adding that one of those seven said they could get a medical exemption.
Showalter said some department supervisors have concerns over the policy.
“The supervisors expressed to me their concern that if we push too hard we may lose staff and make it hard on everybody else,” he said.
The Town Council discussed the policy for over 30 minutes. Mount Jackson Town Attorney Jay Neal said it is hard for him to give advice on the subject because of ongoing litigation across the country.
“You have businesses, towns, counties, governments, quasi-governments all across the country in every shape and size that are adopting things,” Neal said. “And they vary across the board and there’s lawsuits filed all over the place — everything from challenging the simple wearing of a mask to requiring a vaccine. Everything right now is in litigation.”
Mount Jackson Mayor Donnie Pifer said that although he is fully vaccinated, he’s against requiring employees to be vaccinated.
“I think that’s your right,” Pifer said. “If you want to take a chance on it, roll the dice, you should be allowed to.”
The Town Council talked about a number of ways they could adjust the policy from last month, including requiring unvaccinated employees to be tested weekly. There was discussion about who would pay for weekly testing.
Instead of requiring vaccinations, the council discussed whether to require employees to wear masks.
“What I’m hearing is while you’d like the staff to fully vaccinate, you are giving them some alternatives,” Showalter said.
Council member Whitney Miller said anyone who is not vaccinated should have to wear a mask.
“If they’re not vaccinated, I think they have to wear a mask everywhere, all the time,” Miller said. “I’m trying to nail this down. If other people feel if you’re vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask outside, I’m down with that. I think we have to make a decision and then we have to stick to it.”
Mount Jackson Public Works Supervisor Randy Lonas spoke during the discussion, saying he cannot make his workers wear masks if they’re digging in a ditch in 90 degree weather.
Mount Jackson Town Council member Bonnie Good suggested tabling the discussion until the next meeting, saying she wants “to think through this in quiet” and for the council to “give consideration to everything we talked about implementing.”
Miller said they also need to find out if the unvaccinated employees are willing to be masked.
“To me there’s no flexibility in it,” Miller said. “If you’re not vaccinated you need to wear a mask. Is that going to be an issue, because I don’t want to make it less restrictive or give flexibility if the folks with the greatest risks aren’t willing to also make those accommodations. Something to think about — are the people that need to be masked wiling to be masked, or are they gone anyway? That’s just something to think about.
“I think we’ll take time to see what we’ve written and hopefully the town staff can also take time and think about ‘OK where can we be flexible and where do we have to be really rigid in how we handle this’ Because it is a whole new ballgame for everybody.”
The Town Council then unanimously rescinded last month’s policy and put the topic on the agenda for the November meeting.