City council zoom meeting 8/18

Mayor John Haila discussed draft approval of a citywide face covering ordinance, going against advice from Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa attorney general and the Ames city attorney Aug. 18.

The Ames City Council voted to draft an enforceable ordinance that makes face coverings required in public spaces indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. The ordinance would go against the governor’s emergency proclamation, the attorney general and the city attorney.

“To be clear — the Council directed the attorney to bring back a face covering ordinance for consideration. That’s the first step in the process of moving forward on the mandate. That’s the first step. That’s all that happened tonight,” wrote city of Ames public relations officer Susan Gwiasda in a message.

Councilmembers Tim Gartin and David Martin opposed the ordinance but were overruled by the four councilmembers who voted for it — Rachel Junck, Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen, Gloria Betcher and Amber Corrieri.

Members of the Ames community expressed their concerns about potential spikes in COVID-19 cases in Story County after large gatherings Saturday and the County exceeding 10 percent COVID-19 positivity rate.

On July 15, Ames Mayor John Haila sent a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds requesting permission to implement a citywide face covering requirement. As of Aug. 18, the Council had received no response and is planning to implement their city authority under home rule. This models Iowa City’s similar ordinance.

Mark Lambert, Ames city attorney, said he didn’t know if the ordinance was outside of the city’s legal authority or not, but is going to draft an ordinance, which will be brought back to the City Council for approval.

“When we have the draft ordinance, I’ll look more closely into the governor’s proclamation and have more to say on it,” Lambert said.

Lambert wrote in a memo to Mayor Haila, “I provided you with a memo analyzing the legality of local face-covering mandates. In that memo, I advised that the Council should follow the Iowa Attorney General’s informal opinion that it was not lawful for local governments to implement local face-covering mandates while the Governor’s emergency proclamation regarding COVID-19 is in effect.”

Councilmember Gartin said he was concerned about police officers enforcing face coverings in a religious establishment and that it would be “creepy.” In response to this, councilmember Beatty-Hansen said, “Why is a place of worship different? Why not enforce it there, when you’d enforce it in a business or any other public setting where you have a lot of people in one place. How is it special in a way that makes it exempt?”

Nicole Whitlock, Ames City Council ex-officio, wrote in a message, “Tonight we passed the request for the draft. The editing and approval may take one or multiple meetings. I am not sure yet. But it’s not going to be enforced until the Friday after it is passed. We are not sure yet what the enforcement aspect will entail.”

Enforcement methods are going to be determined in the ordinance draft. A municipal infraction is being considered for those not wearing a face covering as a last resort method, which results in a fine. Municipal infractions may be up to the discretion of the police officer, but Haila expresses concern over overworking the police department.

Dickson Jensen, owner of the Jensen Group located in Ames, expressed his disdain for the ordinance before discussing his sidewalk issue with the Council.

“I have been in this community for 50 years developing and conducting business within our community,” Jensen said. “I want to take my three minutes to start with, I can’t believe the conversation tonight. The lawlessness, the not respecting our city attorney. We’re walking down a really, really bad road [...] you’ll spend all night doing things that aren’t recommended by our governor, our attorney general and our city attorney.”

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