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Towns step in after county fails

Disgusted, Goessel and Hillsboro take mask mandates into their own hands

Staff writer

After county commissioners refused Monday to pass a mask mandate, it took Goessel city council a few hours to pass one and Hillsboro city council just one day to consider their own and send it back for revision.

Goessel officials made no secret that the county’s inaction was the trigger for Goessel’s action.

“We were hoping the county would do something for it, but since they did not yesterday, that’s when my mayor came to me and said ‘We’ve got to do something,’ ” city clerk Jennifer Bliss said Tuesday. “Our grocery store pushed for it, because they have a lot of people come in without their masks. We support them and that was another reason why we did it.”

Mayor Dave Schrag said he was concerned because the spread of COVID-19 is getting worse.

“Every day they are getting more and more cases,” Schrag said. “It’s spreading rapidly. We want to prevent Goessel from being part of the spread in Marion County.”

Schrag expressed his disappointment with commissioners.

“I would also like to say I wish the Marion County commissioners would have taken upon themselves to do this and protect everyone in the county,” he said. “They put the pressure on the cities in Marion County and decided to leave it up to the cities to do this on their own. So now it’s going to cost Goessel over $500 to put this ordinance in the paper in order to do this mask mandate, and I would assume it’s going to cost each of the small towns in Marion County to send them out.

“I just wish the county commissioners had taken upon themselves to take care of this instead.

“I really think it’s important to do what we can to protect the people next to us.”

Goessel’s ordinance, effective through Jan. 31, requires people ages 6 and older to wear a mask in public spaces when they can’t keep a six-foot distance from others.

Exempt are people with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering, whose hearing is impaired, who are communicating with someone whose hearing is impaired, for whom a mask would create a work-related risk, who need to temporarily remove the mask, who are seated in a restaurant, or engaged in sports or other activities that cannot be safely done while wearing a mask.

The ordinance imposes a $25 fine for the first offense, $50 fine for the second offense, and $100 fine for the third offense.

Hillsboro councilmen considered a similar mask ordinance Tuesday and sent it back for revision because of a clause that could fine owners of businesses where masks were not worn.

Another clause council members found troublesome states the ordinance would apply to employees who work where food is prepared or packaged.

Councilman Brent Driggers voiced concern that the provision would unfairly affect a local honey packager and a food container manufacturer, which are already subject to industry regulations.

After nearly two hours of discussion and comments from the public, council members voted to have city attorney Josh Boehm rework the ordinance and present two versions at a special council meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Among the 48 people who attended the meeting by teleconference were the superintendent of Hillsboro schools, the CEO of Hillsboro Community Hospital, owners of several businesses, county health department administrator Diedre Serene, and Bill Rudd, pastor of a local church, who contended that imposing a mask ordinance would be going down a road that would lead to “Draconian law.”

Mayor Lou Thurston, clearly in favor of a mask ordinance, said the city is not going down that road.

Hillsboro’s ordinance requires people to wear masks in public and business employees who work with the public to wear one at all times.

In Hillsboro’s case, someone responsible for a business or organization that doesn’t comply could be held jointly responsible for the fine.

The ordinance would be in effect for 62 days, and could be extended in January.

“I think the approach isn’t necessarily to be punitive,” city administrator Matt Stiles said.

Stiles said wearing masks is a public health issue, and that businesses could take a non-confrontational approach with customers not wearing masks.

If they wanted, they could have someone not wearing a mask removed from their business for trespassing, Stiles said.

“We feel that individuals should do the responsible thing and wear masks when you are in situations where you can’t socially distance,” Serene told council members.

Serene said hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with COVID patients as well as emergencies.

Serene said the best way to keep businesses and schools open, and to avoid shut-downs, is for people to wear masks.

Mark Rooker, CEO of Hillsboro Community Hospital, told council members that hospitals are struggling to find patients beds in medical centers equipped of care for COVID-19 patients. The community needs to do what it can to flatten the curve of the virus.

Thurston asked Stiles if the city could provide signs for businesses to help take some of the burden off them. Stiles said yes.

Councilman Renee Gehring said the ordinance would hurt local businesses.

“I’ve had more people tell me that they’re not going to shop in Hillsboro because we don’t have a mask mandate than say they will shop here because we don’t,” Thurston said.

Thurston said he doesn’t believe a recommendation for masks, such as Hillsboro passed a few months ago, does any good.

“I’m just at the point now that I think an ordinance with no penalties is useless,” Thurston said. “Will it slow it down? I hope it does. Will it stop it? I don’t think so.”

Thurston said when he took his oath of office, promising to act for the health, general welfare and safety of the community, he took it seriously.

Gehring, shaking her head emphatically, said she does not think government should impose upon businesses.

Thurston told her it is a public health issue and he’s tired of people making it into a political issue.

Last modified Nov. 19, 2020

 

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