An attempt to hire back employees and reappoint commissioners who did not comply with the town’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate failed at this week’s Leesburg Town Council meeting.
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox, who was a staunch opponent of the vaccine mandate, put forward the motion but was supported only by Councilwoman Kari Nacy, also an opponent of the mandate.
The Town Council voted to enact the mandate in October, requiring all of the town’s full- and part-time employees and the majority of its board and commission members to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 11. Only a handful of employees and board and commission members were terminated by council action for not complying with the mandate, but others who chose not to comply resigned ahead of the deadline.
The most resignations came from the Leesburg Police Department, with seven officers resigning because of the mandate. Four part-time staff members from the Parks & Recreation Department also resigned, along with two members of the town’s boards and commissions. Three employees and five board and commission members were terminated due to noncompliance. Members of the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals were exempt from complying with the mandate, as those bodies are state-mandated and there is no authority for the Town Council to dismiss members over the requirement.
The town government granted a total of 50 religious or medical exemptions for the mandate among employees and board and commission members.
Just a month into the vaccine mandate taking hold, Town Council members indicated a willingness to revisit the policy because of updated CDC guidance. The mandate was rescinded March 8.
Fox had attempted on several occasions between October and March to have the original the mandate rescinded, but a council majority always voted to keep the item off its business meeting agendas.
Tuesday night, Fox said she hoped her council colleagues would vote to welcome back their departed employees and board and commission members now that the mandate had been terminated. She again took issue with the original mandate, referring to it as an “egregious overreach and possibly unconstitutional” and said the town had lost “many wonderful public servants” in enacting a mandate that lasted only eight weeks.
“My position is that this offer should be made whether or not the employee or commissioner does desire their position back,” she said.
Fox said supporting the motion would show those who originally supported the vaccine mandate did so for safety measures, and not for punitive purposes.
Nacy, the only other supporter of the motion, agreed.
“I know that saying this and doing this won’t mean people automatically get their jobs back, there’s a process. But considering we changed the policy recently we should allow these people the opportunity to be reinstated,” she said.
Councilman Neil Steinberg again defended the former mandate, saying that the council used data from state and federal health agencies in considering its decision, and noted that mandate was widely accepted by town government employees, with more than 90% of full- and part-time employees complying and the remaining majority receiving either a religious or medical exemption.
“I can’t imagine what anybody thinks we stood to gain personally or politically by passing [the mandate],” he said.
Fox’s motion failed on a 2-5 vote.