The late comedian Robin Williams once said that “Politics is so personal, vicious and immediate, how are you going to get anything done?” Apache Junction Unified School District (AJUSD) Governing Board President Jodi Ehrlich personified that statement on Monday evening when she unilaterally, independently recessed the board’s in-person meeting (under the ARS 38-431.02(E) 24 hour exemption) to be resumed the next evening by Zoom.
At issue was Ehrlich’s personal rejection of board member Christa Rizzi’s medical exemption from wearing facial coverings. While the board members on stage were very clearly “social distancing” nonetheless Ehrlich requested that Rizzi put on her mask. When Ms. Rizzi responded that she has a medical exemption Ehrlich outrageously and inappropriately demanded that Ms. Rizzi’s publicly disclose her medical condition.
Ehrlich somehow seems to believe that an email she sent prior to the board meeting somehow justifies her demands. Monday’s meeting was not the first, there have been four or five in-person meetings of the AJUSD board during which Ms. Rizzi had not worn a mask. One is left to wonder why, so suddenly, this attack on her participation.
This is such an egregious abuse of Ms. Ehrlich’s position as board president. Let me count the ways.
First, since she doesn’t have a leg to stand on as neither the Pinal County Board of Supervisors nor the Apache Junction City Council have emulated the example of their colleagues in other Arizona counties and cities by imposing an onerous mask mandate, Ehrlich insists that Rizzi’s refusal to wear a mask is a violation of district policy GBGB-R “Staff Personal Security and Safety” And while a medical exemption is apparently allowable under Gov. Ducey’s executive orders, the board ignored it in AJUSD policy. However the policy does state that “face coverings should not be worn by anyone who has trouble breathing.”
According to Ms. Rizzi her fellow board members, including Ehrlich, and district administrators have witnessed her breathing difficulties which had recently been exacerbated by smoke from brush fires in the Apache Junction area. By trying to force Ms. Rizzi to wear a mask despite her known breathing issues, I think it is fair to question who is actually violating the district policy.
Next, October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. If I remember correctly Gov. Ducey has had the Capitol dome lit purple in the past to honor the victims. Ms. Rizzi, herself a survivor of domestic abuse, very eloquently addresses the potential consequences of forcing victims of domestic violence or those with anxiety disorders to wear masks or cover their faces. But Ehrlich is unimpressed instead apparently preferring an attempt at public shaming.
Finally, it is bad enough that Ducey’s executive order, with a nod from Attorney General Brnovich, has for all intent and purposes excluded the public from the public meetings of their elected representatives. Now one elected official is trying to use it to exclude another elected official from exercising the sworn duties of her office.
A governing board president does not unilaterally get to decide which governing board members may or may not attend board meetings. Whether participating in-person or telephonically is the prerogative of each individual member.
The duly elected Ms. Rizzi shared with me that on Tuesday after the recessed meeting the hired Apache Junction Superintendent Krista Anderson informed her that she would have to provide Anderson with a doctor’s written exemption stating her medical condition apparently for her to be … “approved” for a mask exemption??!!??
As if all of this were not bad enough coincidentally the next evening a community member who was not wearing a mask for medical reasons (but was social distancing) was publicly bullied and harassed by Apache Junction High School Principal Christopher Lineberry. This community member, a Pastor, had previously attended numerous volleyball games without a mask.
It seems that Apache Junction residents are living the rest of Robin Williams’ quote “…Even the local politics where I live have gotten so ugly.” When one elected official and government employees start believing it is within their authority to impede other elected officials from fulfilling their duties one can’t help but feel we are traveling through another dimension and our next stop is the Twilight Zone!