As part of Portland’s new, renewable 30-day mask mandate, the city appointed an existing employee to serve as a constable to help enforce the ordinance.
But the appointee, Bridget Rauscher, said her goal is to not have to issue citations.
Rauscher, a health officer for the city and program manager in the city’s Public Health Division, also serves on the board of directors at Milestone Recovery. She was appointed constable on Jan. 3, the night the City Council reinstated the mask mandate.
Rauscher said she hopes to get as much voluntary compliance with the ordinance as possible. She said science generally shows when there is a rule put into place, approximately 90 percent of people will follow.
As for the remaining 10 percent, Rauscher said there are two ways to file complaints.
The first is to use the city’s SeeClickFix app, which is usually used to report issues such as potholes and graffiti. The other way is to email her at email@example.com.
So far, she said, “the majority of what I’ve received have been specific to businesses where either customers or staff are not masked.”
Rauscher said she’s been reaching out to businesses to provide as much education and information as possible about the mandate, which requires the use of masks in all public indoor spaces. Her goal is not to be punitive, she said, but to provide the best education that benefits public health.
For the most part, the burden will remain on businesses to enforce the mandate –something businesses have objected to in the past.
Rauscher said she hopes she doesn’t have to reprimand business owners, and would rather offer support to staff about achieving customer compliance. She said the first few weeks will most likely be about education to increase voluntary compliance.
“We’re not looking for a confrontation of any kind,” she said.
After receiving a complaint, Rauscher said, she would contact business management and staff about what is expected “and make sure they really understand (the mandate).”
But eventually, if an individual or business shows continued disregard for the ordinance, she has the authority to issue citations and fines of up to $500 to individuals who break the rule.
“If it takes several interactions and it feels like blatant disregard for the ordinance, I would take it to that next level,” she said.
Rauscher’s position as constable will last through Dec. 31, while the mask mandate itself may expire before then because the council will review it every 30 days.
Rauscher acknowledged there have been “growing pains” around the new ordinance, and there are still people who either don’t know about the mandate, don’t understand the public health benefit, or disagree for personal reasons.
“This is par for the course during the pandemic,” she said. “It would be really beneficial if people could really just follow the rule right now. The sooner people are able to comply, the sooner we will move past a mask ordinance.”