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Republicans Block COVID Motion

Barbara Colt reads the names of multiple members of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Women and Men’s Action Group who supported the proposed motion to encourage the best practices to overcome COVID-19. PJ Photos by Gregory Bacon

MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County Legislator Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, wanted to see county government take a stand and encourage “best practices” in the fight against COVID-19 by a passing a motion. She could only get members of her own party to sign the motion in support.

During the Chautauqua County Legislature meeting, county lawmakers failed to vote on a motion entitled “Encouraging best practices to overcome COVID-19.” Motions require a minimum of 10 signatures. Only Democratic legislators Bob Bankoski of Dunkirk, Paul Whitford of Jamestown, Billy Torres of Jamestown and Parker signed the motion.

Before the vote, there were 18 residents who spoke regarding the motion. Ten of those who spoke were in favor of the motion while eight were against it.

One of those who spoke was Barbara Colt with the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Women and Men’s Action Group. “As a non-partisan organization we advocate here tonight for the current life-saving recommendation requirements of the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, the county Board of Health and the New York State Department of Health,” she said.

Ralph Walton, who served as the Commissioner of Mental Health in the 1980s under Republican County Executive Jack Glenzer, also spoke in favor of the motion. “During (my) era, the Chautauqua County Republican Party clearly respected science. It’s my hope that this legislature will demonstrate that the same is true today by voting for accepting the motion,” he said.

Ben Shank speaks out against the proposed motion “encouraging best practices to overcome COVID-19.”

One woman said she was speaking on behalf of her husband. “He’s exhausted. He’s been at this for two years. His staffing is moot. He’s down to one nurse because they have been exposed to COVID and some of them have COVID,” she said.

She said she “understands the libertarian point of view” but called on those who oppose masks and vaccine to stop filling up hospitals. “Don’t come crawling in begging for help when your lungs fill with fluid from COVID pneumonia. It’s a miserable way to die,” she said.

But Tammy Shack of Dewittville, said the motion isn’t about supporting health officials. “When you support a motion in order to show your appreciation for the Health Department, that is wrong. … That’s not why you support a motion. Give them a pizza party if you want to show your appreciation,” she said.

Ben Shank said he is unvaccinated and doesn’t wear a mask by choice. “I think that you have been misled to believe that the only way we will ever get out of this (pandemic) is by listening to the pharmaceuticals, and they’re making a bunch of money off of you people,” he said.

When the time came to vote on the motion, the clerk announced that were not enough signatures for it to be voted on.

The only legislator who vocalized any opposition to the motion was Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan. He said he couldn’t support recommending the vaccine for children 5 and older, which was stated in the motion. “That should be a decision between the children, their parents and their doctors,” he said.

Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown, also spoke after the motion failed to be voted on. Rankin, who voted in favor of the motion as a member of the county Board of Health, expressed concerns about the “divisive nature” expressed during Wednesday’s meeting. “This motion … does not contradict what we talked about a couple of month ago supporting constitutional rights. We always have a choice,” she said.

The OBSERVER/Post-Journal asked her after the meeting why she didn’t sign the motion and Rankin replied, “It wouldn’t have made a difference.”

Motions have no legal authority and would have not implemented any new laws, fines or regulations if it had been passed.

Parker expressed her disappointment with her fellow lawmakers for failing to back the motion. “We missed an opportunity to show leadership — the kind of leadership that I believe our job requires and is expected,” she said.

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