As some Texas cities and counties are imposing new burdens and fines on businesses already hurting from months of government-mandated coronavirus closures, officials in “The City of Excellence” chose a voluntary approach to slowing the spread of the virus.

In an emergency meeting Tuesday night, Plano City Council voted 5-3 in favor of recommending, rather than mandating, face masks.

Councilmembers Lily Bao, Kayci Prince, Anthony Ricciardelli, Rick Smith, and Shelby Williams supported an amended ordinance “adopting and approving a strong recommendation for businesses that provide goods and/or services to the public to implement a health and safety policy to require face coverings.”

The ordinance includes exceptions for certain individuals and circumstances; it does not include any penalties.

“We are absolutely encouraging individuals and businesses to wear face coverings when it’s appropriate, per CDC guidelines,” Williams said after the meeting. “Nobody will be penalized for not doing so.”

The original ordinance proposed by Mayor Harry LaRosiliere would have forced local businesses to require employees and visitors to wear face coverings and subjected “any person, firm or corporation found to be violating the order” to a $500-a-day fine.

“This is not a freedom issue by any means,” LaRosiliere said. “It’s a health and welfare issue.”

“I feel the debate is over,” the mayor added, saying the city had received 1,100 public comments on the mask ordinance, and 83 percent were in favor of masks.

“If we’ve got 80-85 percent support from our citizens on this, it’s going to happen naturally,” said Smith. “And that’s the way it should happen. We don’t need to add another government layer to this process.”

“Businesses are already suffering—especially small businesses,” said Bao. “They are already doing all they can to cope with this pandemic.”

“I could only support this if we took out the provision for the fines on businesses, but at that point, I don’t know how beneficial it is,” said Prince. “I’m not for fining businesses for this.”

“We need voluntary compliance,” Ricciardelli said. “I believe a strong recommendation would be more productive for our community than a mandate.”

Several citizens on both sides of the issue participated in the online meeting.

“I am a big fan of masks,” said Plano resident and conservative activist Mike Openshaw, adding he is a data analyst whose first career was in virology and medical microbiology. “However, making the small-business man the enforcer puts them in a very hard position.”

“I think the city’s role should be to encourage masking … and to support those businesses who do require them,” Openshaw said:

“There’s plenty of evidence to support why masking is important. But 100 percent masking is not as important as a majority masking. But as long as government is forcing it, there’s going to be some pushback simply because we don’t like being told what to do.”

On Tuesday morning, Denton County officials also decided against imposing a mask mandate on local businesses.

Other North Texas localities—including Dallas County, Tarrant County, and the city of Denton—have chosen to impose mask regulations and potential fines on local businesses in response to increases in daily new coronavirus cases reported since the end of May, after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave local officials the go-ahead.

On Monday, McKinney’s mayor issued an executive order forcing businesses to require masks or face fines. That order will expire on July 6 unless the city council extends it.

Plano’s mask ordinance is in effect through August 10.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.