Masks

The Minnetonka City Council passed a citywide mask mandate starting Jan. 17.

The Minnetonka City Council will discuss the possibility of a citywide mask mandate via an emergency ordinance during a virtual meeting at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14.

The council will consider written and live comments from businesses and residents at that time.

Prior to this discussion, the council decided to conduct virtual meetings given the rising cases with the omicron variant.

“As of today, the city has more employees out due to COVID-positive test or exposure than we have had it any time during the pandemic in the last two years,” reported Corrine Heine, the city’s attorney. She also noted that the county has reported its highest rate of infection since November 30, 2020.

It was also reported that other cities have chosen to meet remotely including Excelsior, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Edina, Maplewood and Richfield. Edina and Excelsior have set end dates, with meetings scheduled to go back to in-person at the end of February as the Omicron variant has seen a “fast spike up ... and an equally fast decline in the transmission rate,” City Manager Mike Funk said.

The council decided to move all city meetings online, and to reevaluate the situation in four weeks.

Mayor Brad Wiersum said that while he was supportive of people wearing masks, he would not declare a state of emergency to mandate them citywide due to the lack of enforcement.

“From a public policy perspective, for me to implement an ordinance or a rule that I know will not be enforced ... that’s bad public policy,” he said during the Jan. 10 regular meeting.

Alternatively, Heine, shared that the council could pass an emergency ordinance.

Mandating face coverings received mixed reviews by council members.

Newly elected Councilmember Kimberly Wilburn said she would support a city-wide mask mandate, as did newly re-elected Councilmember Deb Calvert.

“It is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to offer protection,” Wilburn said.

Councilmembers Rebecca Shack and Brian Kirk expressed concerns about asking businesses to enforce a mandate.

“I am so reluctant because of the pressure this the business community that has been through so much,” Schack said, having seen people struggle with enforcement in downtown Minneapolis.

“The pressure it puts on 16-year-old clerks, already understaffed businesses, folks who are already at their breaking points to enforce it,” Schack said. “My inclination is to go forward despite that, recognizing that we’re going to face the same problem that we faced when we have the city building mandates” with people who also refused to comply.

“And I don’t think we can ask our police to be mask police at this point. But I think in this regard, we can lead by example.”

She also suggested exemptions to the mandate, including athletic or recreational facilities, such as Williston or the ice arena.

Kirk said he agreed with Schack and hopes a mandate would be temporary.

“I would hope that this is going to be considered very temporary, and being optimistic if this spike drops as quickly as we’re all hoping, that we could lift the mask mandate as quickly as we impose it,” Kirk said.

His concern was more about keeping things open because employees are being exposed to COVID.

“I think the mask mandate makes sense right now because of those reasons,” Kirk said. “We need to stop the spread in order to keep our businesses schools, bus transportation, etc., available to people.”

Heine noted that violation of a city ordinance is a misdemeanor offense, however, the city could provide for a petty misdemeanor in the adoption of the ordinance if it chose.

With a mask mandate, Minnetonka Police Chief Scott Boerboom said enforcement would be challenging, especially on such a passionate issue.

“To have officers go out and deal with passion like this and end up in an altercation, it makes it very difficult for our officers,” he said. “It made it easier when it was statewide because we had consistency across our borders. We don’t have it today.”

Wiersum said he couldn’t support a mask mandate that wouldn’t be enforced.

“I’m not going to ask our police officers to enforce it,” he said. “I have a real problem with laws that are not enforced. So the practical reality of it is that we put a mask mandate in place and all the people who are pro-mask and believe that we’re doing the right thing are going to wear masks.

“But guess what? They’re already going to wear masks, but what they’re also going to do is it’s going to provide the illusion that everybody’s going to wear a mask and ... that’s not going to happen. And the 16-year-old kid is not going to enforce it.

“But I can’t, in good conscience, say that I’m going to support an ordinance that is not going to be enforced. That’s bad public policy, and shame on us if that’s what we want to do.”

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@apgecm.com

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