UNMASKED: Kristi Stahr (left) at commission meeting. Chair Evelyn Gomez is at right.

I got an answer to a question I posed to members of the Pulaski County Election Commission over the weekend, but which the two Republican members would not answer

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When the Arkansas Blog first reported Saturday a spelling error on Little Rock City Board candidate David Bubbus’ name that the commission formally acknowledged last night, we also brought up the issue of observance of county pandemic guidelines for county office buildings. The issue arose because Election Commission Chair Evelyn Gomez said she wouldn’t sign a copy of the guidelines sent to all people on the county payroll, which includes election commissioners. She said she is not a county employee. Later guidance was that people considered part-time employees, such as Gomez and Commissioners Kristi Stahr (Republican) and Josh Price (Democrat) didn’t have to sign the guidance.

But, I asked them all, would they ABIDE by the guidelines in their work overseeing the Nov. 3 election? Price said he would (he also signed the memo). Gomez wouldn’t respond except to instruct staff to send me a copy of health guidelines adopted by the Election Commission itself. Stahr did not respond.

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The guidelines are comprehensive. They include required mask-wearing by staff in such places as training sessions and polls. The Election Commission met yesterday in a county office building, except that Price attended remotely.

The picture tells the story. Gomez wore a mask. Stahr did not.

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I sent her an email during the meeting asking her why not.

Her reply:

There are only 3 people in a very large room and we are over 10-12 feet apart. I have a very soft voice, and the laptop we are using for youtube does not have an ample speaker unfortunately. This is not a political statement. I wear my mask everywhere as necessary. I am actually in the highest risk category.

If anyone else enters the room, I will place my mask on. FYI. There are others in this building who are not observing the EO and who are actual “employees”, as in FTE, respectfully (not elected, then appointed  as in the commission). 
The State of Arkansas and the County Judge’s EO are in direct conflict, so you can understand the confusion. 

I won’t bother running down the science on the travel of droplets in enclosed areas or delve into last night’s discussion of the fine points of the governor’s and county’s directives. A commissioner chose not to set a good example, despite being urged to do so by others. She did don a mask later in the meeting after she began coughing. Like Donald Trump, she also invoked a “what-about” defense based on unseen others not participating in last night’s meeting.

Stahr is an employee of the Hutchinson administration in the Department of Finance and Administration. The governor said yesterday on another day of rising cases and hospitalizations: “This is why we need to work together to reduce our cases and reduce our hospitalizations.” He says that over and over. And prominent Republicans (see particularly Attorney General Leslie Rutledge) keep ignoring him.

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One other point: Good for Gomez for wearing a mask but bad for Gomez for stopping the livestream last night when elections director Brian Poe, attending remotely, said the meeting shouldn’t proceed as long as Stahr was unmasked. One of his employees was in the room and was wearing a mask.

Gomez can call this interruption a “recess,” but at a meeting at which the public was allowed to attend, she couldn’t have ordered them out of the room for any wrangling about the mask issue. Safe conduct of public business IS the public’s business. The livestream should have continued.