Middletown council divided about possible vaccine mandate

Middletown City Council members are divided on vaccine mandate legislation. NICK GRAHAM/FILE
Caption
Middletown City Council members are divided on vaccine mandate legislation. NICK GRAHAM/FILE

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Citizen urges council to create legislation to block orders for shot, or voters will replace them.

Middletown’s mayor said she’s considering writing legislation that would keep the city from mandating its employees get the COVID-19 vaccine, though there is no such mandate in the city.

For the last four months, Chris Batty, a Middletown resident, has expressed his desire for Middletown City Council to adopt “a medical freedom ordinance.”

On Tuesday, he urged council to create such legislation before the next meeting on Oct. 5 or Middletown voters will “replace you with somebody who will.”

At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Ami Vitori said she wanted to address Batty’s concerns even though he had left. She has been contacted through email by more than 10 residents who expressed their concerns about a possible vaccine mandate, she said.

“I don’t believe this ordinance has a place,” said Vitori, who’s not seeking reelection in November.

Councilwoman Monica Nenni, co-owner of two downtown Middletown bars/restaurants, agreed saying she didn’t want to take freedoms away from small businesses.

“I’m not interested in going down that road,” she said.

Condrey said her legislation “in a nutshell” would not allow anyone to require a vaccination and would be relevant to Middletown.

Nenni told Condrey before she could create a piece of legislation she would have to receive the support of two of the other four council members. Based off the heated conversation Tuesday night, it appeared Condrey lacked any support.

“The majority of council has said, ‘no,’ ” Nenni told Condrey. “I’m comfortable where we are right now. I’m not interested in changing anything (regarding vaccine or mask mandates).”

After Vitori and Nenni expressed similar views, Condrey said the other two council members, Vice Mayor Joe Mulligan and Tal Moon “keep punting on this issue” so council must not be interested in “saving freedoms and liberties” of staff members.

Vitori called that description “a little broad.”

City Manager Jim Palenick missed the meeting because he was out of town. Assistant City Manager Susan Cohen said she wanted to see a proposal before city staff spent resources reviewing the issue.

Vitori said she was concerned about the city spending more money on legal fees.

“I don’t feel compelled that we need an ordinance,” she said.

“I think it’s worth the resources,” Condrey said.

Mulligan said council probably should receive direction from its legal counsel.

“You guys are not alone,” said Brodi Conover, an attorney with Bricker and Eckler.

Last week, Lebanon City Council adopted an emergency ordinance that allows workers to decide whether to get a vaccine.

Vice Mayor Mark Messer, who presided over the meeting due to the absence of Mayor Amy Brewer, said “medical freedom should not be mandated.”

Lebanon city workers won’t be required to have a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, and residents won’t be discriminated or prohibited from entering the city building based on their vaccination status.

Council members said they believe the legislation will protect individual rights in connection with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that the privacy rights of citizens remain protected, specifically health care information.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported there were 6,882 new cases of COVID-19 that have led to 3,702 hospitalizations. There were zero deaths reported Wednesday because deaths are reported on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Since the start of the pandemic, 21,596 Ohioans have died from COVID-19, according to the health department.

Staff Writer Ed Richter contributed to this report.