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Pulaski County official blocked from meeting for refusing to wear mask

Rule disenfranchises voters; plan to sue Pulaski County exec, official says by Tess Vrbin | February 10, 2022 at 7:08 a.m.
FILE - The Pulaski County administration building in downtown Little Rock is shown in this 2019 file photo.

A Pulaski County justice of the peace was barred from entering a county meeting on Tuesday, the second time in just over a month that he has faced consequences for refusing to wear a mask.

Doug Reed, who represents District 1 in western Pulaski County, tried to enter the county administration building in Little Rock on Tuesday evening for the Quorum Court's agenda meeting, in preparation for the Feb. 22 regular meeting. A security guard said Reed could not enter the building without a face covering, as decreed by an executive order from County Judge Barry Hyde.

Reed said in a Wednesday interview that Hyde interfered with county business, with the security guard acting as Hyde's proxy. Reed added that he is preparing a civil lawsuit against Hyde's office.

"He basically kicked 20,000 people out of the meeting," Reed said. "He basically disenfranchised 20,000 [District 1] voters."

Reed was escorted out of Pulaski Academy and fired for no longer complying with the mask mandate at the school, where he taught physics for 27 years until Jan. 4.

Pulaski Academy declined Reed's request for a religious exemption, claiming that it would be an undue hardship to send him home and into quarantine every time he was exposed to covid-19, according to the crowdfunding page Reed set up for legal fees related to his ouster.

The crowdfunding campaign has collected more than $13,000 of its $75,000 goal as of Wednesday.

Reed said in January that $75,000 was "an arbitrary number," and he does not expect to need that much for a legal fight against the school.

He started a separate fund with the same goal Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, it had a single donation of $25.

Reed claimed that he has a religious objection to wearing a face covering. He said in January that he chose not to wear a mask after praying about it, and it was a "conscience-based decision that I felt like God impressed on me."

He said he sent Pulaski County a request for an exemption and never received a response.

The Pulaski County attorney and human resources department handle exemption requests, county communications director Cozetta Jones said in January.

Hyde said in a Wednesday interview that he was not aware of an official request from Reed, and he said he would not comment on Reed's decisions because "his choices are his choices."

"He's doing his thing, and I'm doing my job," Hyde said.

Reed said in January and reiterated Wednesday that his goal in pursuing legal action is "not to be punitive."

He also said he would be willing to participate in Quorum Court meetings virtually.

Hyde does not have to attend agenda meetings, but Reed said Hyde's presence Tuesday might have helped avoid the current situation.

"Had he been there and I'd talked to him, we might have figured something out," Reed said.

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