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Boise mayor talks mask mandate, recall efforts against her in listening session

"The federal government and the state have made it clear that they want local government to make these decisions, and so we're making them."
Credit: KTVB
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

BOISE, Idaho — Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said she wants to see the mandatory mask order currently in place in Ada County expanded to other nearby counties in order to protect citizens from COVID-19.

The mayor said during an online listening session Wednesday that she hopes to see such a regional order "sooner rather than later," noting that decisions made in other cities affect the residents of Boise as well.

"Here in Ada County we have a mask order, but we're one valley and it is so important that the entire Treasure Valley look at the impact wearing just a simple, simple mask... will have on our ability to stay back to work," she said. "And we need to do it together, because our hospitals are all connected; our economy is all connected."

The City of Boise put a mask mandate in place in early June. Central District Health expanded the mask order to the rest of the county in July. 

RELATED: Central District Health concerned about increasing coronavirus cases as students prepare to return to school

McLean stressed that wearing a mask is effective in slowing the virus' spread, and said that she stands by her decision to put a mask order in place even before the health district's decision.

"The federal government and the state have made it clear that they want local government to make these decisions, and so we're making them," she said.

Responding to a question from a resident about the criteria for eventually lifting the mask order, McLean said that although there is not an exact timeline,  the city is working closely with the health district and hospital leaders to determine the safest next steps. 

The mayor added that the city is currently taking an "education first" approach to enforcing the mask mandate, which is technically a misdemeanor. Although some citizens and businesses are ignoring the face-covering requirements, she said, the number of people wearing them shot up after the order went into effect.

RELATED: 'It's against our constitutional rights': Boise shop reclassifies business as private after mask mandate

"While there are still people who don't comply, the compliance rate has grown exponentially and we really appreciate businesses that have been willing to institute it for their employees, in the same way that I think many businesses appreciate it that we said it was necessary so that they could then put a sign on their door," McLean said.

During the listening session, which is available in its entirety online, the mayor also fielded questions about affordable housing, property taxes, homelessness, the recent Black Lives Matter protests and counterprotests in Boise, and the proposed $238.7 million city budget for 2021, which moved forward on the vote of City Council Tuesday night.

The budget includes a roughly $1 million increase to the budget for the Boise Police Department, a line item that many of the BLM protesters have opposed, saying that money going towards policing would be put to better use in social services or crisis mental health program budgets instead. 

RELATED: Boise City Council moves ahead with budget with increase to police budget after divided testimony

McLean said she is in support of public safety and has worked with new Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee to grow the department's mental health and social support teams moving forward. 

McLean spoke bluntly when asked about the efforts to recall her as mayor. Organizers have filed petitions to begin the recall attempts of both McLean and councilwoman Lisa Sanchez, citing the mask mandate and the shutdown of businesses earlier in the pandemic, as well as a transition memo that contained some much-criticized suggestions from members of the mayor's transition team. 

Recall supporters have until late September to gather 26,108 verified signatures - 20% of registered Boise voters - in order to get a recall item on the ballot in November. 

RELATED: Recall petitions filed for Boise Mayor McLean, City Council Member Lisa Sanchez

The mayor said Wednesday that she has not spoken to those organizers, but said she will not be dissuaded from doing her job.

"I don't know the folks that are doing the recall, haven't had a chance to have a conversation with them, but I do know the people of Boise elected me to advance affordable housing, to advance transportation, to make sure we have a city for everyone, and that's what I've been doing since Day One," she said. "For me, I am solely focused on protecting what we love about this place, making sure that we all have opportunity in the long run, and I'm not going to be distracted by some of these things that are being designed to try and take our eye off the ball and to divide us."