Fayetteville council asks mayor to explore weekly COVID testing for unvaccinated city employees

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

City Council members want Mayor Lioneld Jordan to look into a policy that requires all city employees to take a weekly COVID-19 test unless they opt out with proof of full vaccination.

The council voted 6-2 to approve a resolution encouraging the mayor to investigate the possibility of establishing a new policy in which all city employees would be required to submit results of a rapid PCR or antigen test to the Human Resources Department every week. Any employee who voluntarily presents a vaccination card showing that they are fully vaccinated would be exempt from the new rule.

The idea was proposed by Council Member Matthew Petty, whose initial language requested the mayor to implement the policy. Council members on Tuesday amended the resolution to simply ask Jordan to “explore” the idea after some concerns were raised.

Five people spoke against the proposal during public comment. One man said he doesn’t think the vaccine works, and another said she doesn’t think the tests work. Another person said the city should let the employees vote on whether they should get tested.

Council Member Sloan Scroggin said he was worried about the logistics of such a policy. He said he’s not against masks or vaccines, and he knows they work. He thanked Petty for bringing forward an idea to try and help the city cope with the pandemic, but ultimately he said it would be too difficult to implement and conduct weekly testing. He voted against the resolution.

Petty said he agrees there would be logistical challenges, but he thinks they’re solvable. He said he hopes the mayor would consult with the city’s Board of Health to iron out the details before anything is implemented.

Council Member Holly Hertzberg cast the other no vote. She suggested polling all city employees about the policy, but received no support for the idea. She also questioned the mayor on the expected cost of a weekly testing policy.

Jordan said early estimates show the policy could cost the city about $164,000 per month. The city is expected to receive $17.9 million in COVID relief funds, and has already allocated $400,000 toward a cash incentive program to encourage vaccinations.

Hertzberg also had questions about the consequences a city employee would face if they refused to get tested.

Petty said he hopes an employee would be treated the same way as anyone else who refused to comply with city policy.

Jordan said regardless of what the council decided, he plans to implement some type of policy designed to protect city employees. He said he’ll certainly seek guidance from the Board of Health, and will do his best to thoroughly explore the idea, but he will move quickly.

“The mayor is in charge of the staff, and that’s state law,” Jordan said. “I want you all to be comfortable, but at the end of the day, I’ll make the call here.”

Council Member Sonia Gutierrez said she’s in full support the proposal regardless of the issues that were brought up.

“We’re talking about people’s lives here,” said Gutierrez. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Man arrested during meeting

Before the discussion began, a group of people entered the council chambers without masks, despite the mask mandate that’s in effect for all city buildings.

City Clerk Kara Paxton noticed the group and told the mayor she would have to leave the room since she has two young children at home who are unable to get vaccinated.

Jordan ordered the group to leave, but one man refused and said he wouldn’t comply unless he was ticketed or arrested for violating the mask mandate. He was eventually handcuffed and removed from the building after Police Chief Mike Reynolds told him he would be charged in connection with criminal trespassing for not exiting the chambers when asked to do so by the mayor.

The others in the group left the room on their own.

Legalities of weekly testing

City Attorney Kit Williams last week said he believes a weekly testing policy could be legally adopted, despite two recently passed state laws that ban vaccine requirements and passports for government employees.

Act 977 prohibits state and local governments from requiring coronavirus vaccinations, but Williams said the city would not impose any vaccine or immunization requirements.

Act 1030, which bans state and local governments from requiring documentation showing that a person is vaccinated against Covid-19, would not apply, Williams said, as long as Fayetteville’s policy is absolutely clear that no employee is required to furnish a vaccination card.

Since the employees would be voluntarily showing proof of vaccination to be exempted from weekly tests, Williams said such a policy would be similar to the city’s earlier summer incentive program that paid $50 to any employee that voluntarily became fully vaccinated.