Aberdeen city council fails first reading of mask ordinance

Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 6:18 PM CST
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ABERDEEN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - UPDATE, 6:25 pm: The Aberdeen city council has failed the first reading of the proposed mask ordinance 5-4. The ordinance would’ve required the use of face coverings or masks in public areas, including businesses, city buildings, and public transportation.

The Aberdeen city council is returning to the discussion of a mask mandate, with the first reading of an ordinance that would require face coverings in many public areas in Monday’s council meeting.

The council previously passed a resolution that encouraged the use of masks and face coverings in public areas. Council-member Rob Ronayne said that the increased case and death amounts across the state are still concerning, even after the passed resolution took effect.

“This disease is just unrelenting. We have deaths weekly. And it used to be we would go weeks and weeks without death. But now they’re happening frequently.” Ronayne said.

And he says those increases and now public pressure from residents and local health systems is a sign that more needs to be done to control the spread of the virus.

“It was only recently that the president of Avera St. Luke’s hospital here in Aberdeen sent us a message and said, we now think that it is time that we really need help from communities to slow the spread of this pandemic.”

With exceptions, the ordinance would require face coverings or masks to be worn by everyone over the age of 11 in public accommodations. Those include city buildings, businesses, public transportation and public places of gathering. Those requirements would also be necessary indoor and outdoor settings.

However, the city council has divided almost evenly on the topic in previous meetings. Mayor Travis Schaunaman has opposed a mandate in past discussions and said the resolution the council passed is similar to the actions taken by other communities across the state.

“Now that’s virtually the same exact thing that Sioux Falls passed. That’s virtually the same thing that Huron and Mitchell and some other communities have passed.” Schaunaman said.

And he says the city has been proactive in urging people to wear masks or face coverings and follow social distancing guidelines, weeks before other cities did the same.

“I don’t that Aberdeen has been given the credit that they should for having been one of the first cities in the whole state to have a resolution. It’s identical to what Sioux Falls and Huron and other cities have ultimately gone on to do, but we did it weeks in advance.”

The ordinance will be different in that it will be city law to follow, as opposed to the resolution which could not mandate that the public follow its guidelines. However, the ordinance will not have a penalty attached to it. There is, however, a public nuisance penalty option listed in its text, something that Ronayne said is meant to punish egregious violations of the ordinance.

“The public nuisance does mean that we could institute procedures to enforce it upon businesses or groups that were blatantly violating it, inviting violations of it,” Ronayne said.

However, Schaunaman rejected the idea of a public nuisance penalty, having previously stated that an ordinance is an over-step of the powers the city government possesses.

“A public nuisance violation is usually reserved for people not mowing their grass or people not snow in a timely order, that kind of a thing. Trashy cards in the yard, that sort of thing. It’s never meant for human behavior, at least as far as we’ve ever enforced it and as far as I’ve ever seen.” Schaunaman said.

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