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The Anoka City Council is on record opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

In a 3-2 vote last week the council approved a resolution saying it’s against any governmental mandate requiring the vaccines and that vaccination should be a personal decision.

Although Mayor Phil Rice and Council Member Erik Skogquist cast dissenting votes, both said they agree vaccination should be a personal choice and that the city shouldn’t require vaccines for employees.

“I believe in all of the principles stated,” Mayor Phil Rice said. “I just feel that this resolution is taking it a little bit farther than we have to as the leadership of the city, and I’m not that comfortable pushing it to that length.”

The resolution itself doesn’t do anything except state the council’s collective opinion; it doesn’t commit the city to any particular action, City Manager Greg Lee said.

The council’s move comes amid nationwide controversy over the decision by President Joe Biden’s administration to impose emergency rules through OSHA mandating that large employers require employees either be vaccinated or wear masks and undergo weekly testing for COVID-19. The rules were rolled out earlier this month and quickly faced multiple legal challenges.

Against that backdrop, Council Member Elizabeth Barnett introduced the Anoka resolution Nov. 15, after the council discussed it at work session in October.

“There’s a debate in America about the risks and benefits of the synthetic mRNA injections that the manufacturers are calling vaccines,” Barnett said. “I just want to be clear that this resolution is not about the risks and the benefits of those injections. This resolution is intended to remain neutral on the efficacy and the risks. This resolution is about the unprecedented punishment for American men and women who do not want to be injected. ... More specifically, it’s about preventing the city of Anoka from being a tool that’s being used to punish the un-injected men and women who work for us and receive our services.”

The resolution says the city supports the decision of those who choose to be vaccinated but “also recognizes that many individuals are concerned about possible harmful effects of the vaccine and therefore choose not to be vaccinated.”

It goes on to say the city “will provide an equal level of service to everyone working, contracting, living and visiting the city of Anoka, no matter what their vaccination status” and that unvaccinated employees “will not suffer discrimination in career progression nor pressure from their fellow coworkers or superiors to become vaccinated.”

Barnett said sending these messages to employees and residents was especially important to her, adding that she’s had several citizens ask if they can still attend city activities without being vaccinated or if they’ll get the same level of service.

Among its justifications, the resolution cites the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment, which prohibits the deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process.

In her comments, Barnett called existing vaccine mandates an “extreme violation of constitutional due process.”

At City Attorney Scott Baumgartner’s recommendation, Barnett dropped her proposed reference to the Nuremberg Code and Declaration of Helsinki, which deal with the ethics of medical experiments, including the importance of consent by human subjects.

Because only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has full FDA approval, Barnett argued the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are experimental. All three vaccines have completed the clinical trial process, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says all have been shown safe and effective.

Baumgartner advised the council that in this context the word “experimental” is, in itself, a controversial buzzword, and Barnett left the language out of her final motion. She said the resolution is about choice and the Constitution, not about the efficacy or safety of vaccines.

Council Member Jeff Weaver seconded the motion.

“For the life of me I just can’t get my arms around the ‘no jab, no job’ mentality that’s going around the country,” he said.

He added that it’s time for the city to take a stand.

“I understand the severity of what’s going on with this disease,” he said. “It’s terrible. It’s awful. I’ve chosen to get vaccinated. ... But that was my choice. But I can’t tell anybody else, and I don’t know who in this room has or hasn’t, and I don’t care. ... It’s time we take a stand.”

But Mayor Phil Rice believed the resolution lays out a stronger position than the city needs to take.

“I do believe that these mandates are unconstitutional,” he said. “I think it is wrong to dictate that, and that’s why I say I think it’s enough to say that we’re not going to mandate vaccinations, because I think it’s wrong to mandate them. And I think the government is overstepping its legal bounds by doing so.”

Council Member Erik Skogquist agreed that he doesn’t mind telling employees and residents the city won’t force vaccination on them, and he doesn’t think Anoka should fire employees who don’t want to get vaccinated.

But he said the city should stay in its lane, and he worried the resolution may create confusion and do more harm than good.

“The frustration I have with this is it’s just creating a big culture-wars stew in the city of Anoka, and if our whole point is to try to not be political, that is exactly what this does,” he said. “I’m sorry, you can say it doesn’t all day long, but that’s exactly what this does. ... I think it’s just unfortunate that we’ve really started to dig into so many of these big, meaty issues that really have nothing to do with us as a city.”

Although the council was divided over the resolution, Rice attempted to focus attention on what council members agreed on.

“I think it’s important in the end game that this city council and that our city staff and leadership get the message that we are supportive of our employees and we are supportive of their individual rights,” Rice said.

 

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