Chattahoochee Hills votes down mask ordinance; councilman retiring

Alan Merrill resigned from his District 4 seat on the Chattahoochee Hills City Council on Sept. 1, 2020 because he is moving out of the city and to a retirement community, Presbyterian Village Athens.

Chattahoochee Hills, home to less than 3,000 Southside residents, voted down a COVID-19 mask ordinance suggested by Gov. Brian Kemp.

The ordinance included broad rules that would require people to wear masks in public. City council members argued that there isn’t much “public” in the city.

Kemp has said he is “begging" cities to enforce laws and people to wear masks, but Kemp remains firm that he will not create a statewide mask mandate despite the White House’s urging to do so. That leaves the decision to cities.

Council member Troy Bettis said at the meeting last Wednesday he felt the ordinance would set a bad precedent of government oversight.

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In an Aug. 27 work session, Mayor Tom Reed said he got a call from Kemp’s office asking him to have it council consider the ordinance, which creates requirements only if cases countywide reach a certain level. Fulton is beyond that level, meaning the rules would have gone into effect if the council passed the ordinance.

“I am putting this out with absolutely no opinion on it,” the mayor said at the work session.

With 115 miles of roads untouched by the development seen throughout the county, Chatt Hills is popular with bicyclists and draws many visitors. And council member Laurie Searle said it is those visitors who are misbehaving by not wearing masks.

Fellow council member Alan Merrill said this isn’t about government control or who is doing what, but instead showing the public this is the right thing to do. A majority of the council disagreed.

It was one of the last things Merrill will vote on.

He resigned minutes later because he is moving out of the city and into an Athens retirement community. He said he’s enjoyed his time in office since January 2018, but he and his wife are 76 and planning ahead.

“We know that the best time you make a move like this is before you have a real need,” he said.

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Merrill got a standing ovation from the mostly masked crowd when he finished speaking. Council members and others spoke his praises.

“It is hard to imagine this role without you,” Mayor Reed said. “You will be hugely missed.”

Many talked about how Merrill was instrumental in forming the city as head of the Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy, which formed in 2003 with the goal of creating a city.

Chattahoochee Hill Country incorporated in December 2007, as part of the large cityhood movement at the time. The city council voted to change the name less than a year later.

Merrill represented District 4, which is the southernmost part of the city.

Voters can chose his replacement during the city-run Nov. 3 presidential election.

Researchers at Duke University published their analysis in 'Science Advances.'

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