The state-imposed shutdowns of businesses due to the coronavirus has had a devastating effect upon small businesses- and the mayors of Monticello and Big Lake want Gov. Tim Walz to know first hand what his stay-at-home order has done to their community’s main streets.

Walz loosened the stay-at-home order on Wednesday, May 13 to an safe-at-home order, and allowed many retailers to open their doors. But that order did not allow people to return to sit-down service at restaurants and bars. Walz stated on Wednesday, May 13, “Today we announced a cautious, measured turning of the dial toward a new normal. Our Stay Home Order will be replaced with one that encourages Minnesotans to stay close to home and allows retail stores and main streets to safely open.”

Two days before Walz’ new Safe-at-Home order was issued, at the Monday, May 11 meeting of the Monticello City Council, Mayor Brian Stumpf floated to members of the city council the idea of presenting a unified letter or resolution to Walz stating that we need to start opening local businesses back up. 

And in the hour preceding Walz’ May 13 declaration, the Big Lake City Council was having a spirited conversation about drafting a resolution asking Walz to rescind his executive order and return the authority over local business to municipal governments.

In the end, neither the Monticello City Council nor the Big Lake City Council passed resolutions taking a strong stand against the Governor and his attempts to protect the public from the coronavirus. But both government bodies left open the door to writing heart-felt letters to Walz explaining the plights of their local business people.

Monticello Council considers letter

In Monticello, Stumpf said he feels a need to take a stand and state to the Governor the importance of getting the city’s small businesses opened up.

What bothers Stumpf the most, he said, is driving by Target, Home Depot and Walmart and seeing that they are unable to practice safe social distancing.

The last straw, Stumpf said, came two weeks ago when Walz allowed the reopening of Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store in Jordan as an essential business with 250 people being allowed in the store.

“How do you social distance in a place like that,” Stumpf asked, noting that people were lined up outside the full length of the building right on top of each other.

“Small businesses in our community are hurting and I feel their pain,” Stumpf said.

Monticello City Council members Charlotte Gabler, Jim Davidson and Lloyd Hilgart supported Stumpf’s idea of addressing Governor Walz in a locally-written letter. Councilor Bill Fair supported the measure, too, but wanted to see any action wait until after the Governor amended his stay-at-home order.

Gabler said she has no problem drafting a letter to the Governor as long as the letter is clear in the fact the City understands that it needs to protect public health while getting businesses up and running.

And while Davidson said he is hesitant to allow large gatherings, he fully backs opening the doors to typical retail businesses.

Hilgart said he thinks it’s time for small businesses to open and criticized the State’s  “pick-and-choose” process of allowing businesses to open. He used as an example the fact that dentists have been allowed to reopen, but hair stylists and barbers have not.

Saying that “The cure is worse than the disease,” Hilgart said it’s time to let small businesses reopen.

“We need to give everyone a opportunity to survive,” he said.

City Administrator Jeff O’Neill said City staff would put together a letter and present it to the City Council at it’s Tuesday, May 26 meeting.

Big Lake resolution creates controversy

In a Wednesday, May 13 workshop, the existence of a draft resolution supporting small businesses appeared to be more controversial than the resolution itself.

At issue was the fact that Mayor Mike Wallen, before discussing the matter with City Council members, had communications with city staff that resulted in a draft resolution supporting small business.

The draft resolution was then shared on social media and became fodder on a community-based forum before the City Council discussed the resolution. 

Wallen was criticized for “circumventing the system” and not being transparent in the way the draft resolution came to life. Furthermore, Council members Scott Zettervall and Rose Johnson felt that the issue was being turned into a political issue and was taking on the appearance of following political party lines.

Wallen said there were two issues behind how the resolution was born. One was in the fact that the Mayor says he has received more phone calls regarding the plight of small businesses than with any other issue in his 9 1/2 yesrs of public service. Second, he saw a resolution passed by the city council of the southern Minnesota city of Lakefield that defied Gov. Walz’s executive order on social restrictions and declared Lakefield a “constitutional and business-friendly community.” It went onto state the city council won’t direct any resources to enforce the government order if Lakefield businesses were to open.

Wallen says he saw what Lakefield did and thought it was a good idea. So good, in fact, that Wallen directed City staff to draft a similar resolution that could be brought before the Council at the May 13 workshop.

Councilmember Seth Hansen said anything the Council does in regards to sending the Governor a message is a symbolic gesture. For that reason he said he was fine with a resolution being drafted even though he said the process of getting the resolution before the Council was flawed.

Johnson said she was extremely disappointed in the process- a process that was far from the way this group of councilors had agreed to do business well over a year ago.

Johnson also didn’t like the tone of the resolution and thought it didn’t represent the City of Big Lake or its residents.

“Let me be clear, I’m very sympathetic towards the businesses of Big Lake and I’d like to do something to help,” Johnson said.

But she wasn’t in favor of poking the eye of the Governor, which is what she said the draft resolution accomplished.

Johnson also noted that it is her opinion that the City doesn’t have the authority to oppose the Governor’s executive order, as the draft resolution stated. Opposing the Governor’s order isn’t a “tactic” Johnson says she supports.

“We don’t have the authority to do this,” Johnson said.

“We have the authority to write a letter. We have the authority to support business- and I support that,” she said.

Councilmember Paul Knier said he thought what was written in the draft resolution was respectful and had his support.

“It gives the people of Big Lake some control and a voice,” Knier added.

As the hour-long workshop inched towards a close, the Big Lake City Council came to a consensus to have Councilmember Rose Johnson and Councilmember Paul Knier meet with City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt and draft a letter to Gov. Tim Walz supporting the opening of Big Lake’s businesses. It was the intent of the Council to have the letter come before the City Council for approval at a future meeting before being sent to the Governor. 

Reach Jeff Hage at



Jeff Hage is the managing editor of the Monticello Times. He majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

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