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Lexington ended mask mandate in meeting that violated state law, SC press chief says

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Town of Lexington sign (copy)

The Lexington Town Council voted to end a mask mandate in a March 5 meeting held without public notice. 

LEXINGTON — The Lexington Town Council voted to suspend the ordinance that requires wear face coverings in retail establishments soon after Gov. Henry McMaster announced plans March 5 to lift state mask rules in restaurants and state buildings.

But the town failed to follow a state requirement for a 24-hour notice when it met and voted on March 5, the state's main press advocate said.

Word of the vote was posted on the town's Facebook page at 8 p.m., three hours after McMaster's announcement, but no notice about the meeting or an agenda were posted on the town's website or social media pages.

Lexington Town Attorney Brad Cunningham said the council’s voted on an “emergency” ordinance that doesn’t require the 24-hour notice.

But Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, disagreed, saying that eliminating a mask covering ordinance “is not an emergency” and the town needed to follow state open-records laws in notifying the public about the meeting.

The Lexington Town Council voted 5-2 after a contentious meeting in late December to require face coverings inside retail businesses through May 1. The town's Facebook post on March 5 announcing the reversal of that decision did not include a vote tally.

Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall, who stood by the council’s actions last week, said the town suspended mask rules in the wake of a steady decline of new virus cases and the increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

MacDougall said it didn’t make sense for the town of Lexington to impose mask requirements when nearby communities did not. Lexington County does not have a countywide ordinance requiring people to wear masks, but mask rules are still in effect in neighboring West Columbia and Cayce.

Lexington town officials said individual businesses could still require customers and employees to have their faces covered before being allowed inside.

Andy Shain contributed from Columbia.

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