In Ely, resolution against Walz’s executive orders unveiled
May 31, 2020 05:55AM
Photo: MPR News
By Nick Wognum of The Ely Echo - May 29, 2020
An Ely city council resolution opposing Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders that have shut down numerous Ely businesses was discussed Tuesday night. Council member Al Forsman drafted the resolution and originally requested a special meeting so it could be passed quickly.
Now it will be on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting, although the final language is likely to change from what was presented.
The resolution currently includes:
“That the City Council supports the choice of all residents to continue to stay at home or the choice to move about freely within the City and to support the economy of Ely while maintaining behaviors to preserve the health and safety of all residents;
“That the City Council encourages all citizens to follow Minnesota Department of Health and CDC guidelines for social distancing and general conduct while out in public;
“That the City Council advises businesses choosing to open, or remain open, to establish and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan (“Plan”) to mitigate the risks of spreading the virus among workers, customers, and residents.”
Fear of reprisal from Walz was on the minds of several council members who worry the city could be penalized and not receive local government aid or bonding dollars.
Forsman said he looked at other cities that have passed resolutions allowing businesses to open, including Eveleth.
“I took that and tweaked it myself and sent it to council members for review. I still support the resolution and think we should have it on Tuesday’s agenda,” said Forsman. He said he was willing to change language that would have the city defend business owners in court. “I might have overreached with that. I think maybe we could also add in to include our churches and places of worship.”
The resolution was not available at the meeting nor shown on the screen in the council chambers.
“What is the position of the council to put pressure on the governor to change some of his positions without aggravating him?” asked mayor Chuck Novak. He said Range mayors would be meeting with the governor to discuss these types of issues on Thursday.
Novak said the state fire marshal recently reducing occupancy rates from one person per 30 square feet to one per 60 combined with Walz’s orders make a 25 percent limit 12.5 percent.
“That’s the final nail in the coffin. Even before the virus restaurants were shutting down a day or two a week. We don’t need any more devastation to our local economy,” said Novak. He said the governor’s office has also been slow to respond to requests, citing a May 14 email that was answered May 23.
Novak said he heard from a resort owner of a message to tell people not to go into town.
“We’re telling to come up here but by the way bring all your stuff with you don’t go into town,” said Novak. “That’s kind of a shot to the foot in our community. I have not heard what they chamber’s position is on this.” Novak’s strongest support for local businesses choosing to open came during discussion on the resolution.
“I fully support action against those that violate city ordinance, state statutes passed by the legislature and the code of federal regulations passed by Congress. Other than that I don’t see us expending our resources enforcing executive orders,” said Novak.
Council member Angela Campbell supported the resolution and said she knew five pastors who support it as well. Council member Paul Kess wasn’t as supportive, saying, “I think that confrontation can be problematic… I’m not yet ready to support an ordinance like this one.”
“I’d like to get our businesses open so they can be successful,” said council member Jerome Debeltz.
Forsman reiterated that the resolution doesn’t force anyone to open but said, “We have businesses and churches that feel they have a strong and safe plan to proceed. They’re not being allowed to exercise their plan. I think it’s important we show support for those organizations and businesses. We’re talking about throwing them a lifeline that they need.”
Novak said even if the resolution is passed, some business owners fear repercussions from the state.
“I’ve talked to three businesses that won’t open because they don’t want to be sued by the attorney general,” said Novak.
Council member Heidi Omerza said she wouldn’t support the resolution, fearing the state would take it out on the city financially. “I feel this will do more harm than good right now,” said Omerza.
Council member Ryan Callen said he was in favor of the resolution “but I also want to follow the rule of law.” He added, “There will be a time when we need to get businesses open…there’s a lot of (state) money at stake we have a lot of projects going on.”
Discussion on allowing restaurants and bars to serve customers outside starting June 1 was also discussed. City clerk treasurer Harold Langowski said a majority of Ely’s affected businesses are on Sheridan Street which is a state highway controlled by MnDOT.
He said MnDOT is working on options including using parking lanes for outdoor seating.
“The state is not going to come in with the state patrol and enforce the right of way,” said Langowski. “We would have to permit those businesses interested and make sure they have insurance which might be problematic.”
Langowski said Britton’s has already been approved to have picnic tables on the sidewalk.
“It’s important for the public to know council is committed to help (businesses) succeed,” said Kess. Forsman said businesses should contact the city clerk’s office for assitance.
“We want to know how we can help you,” said Forsman. “We want to know how to help.”
The council’s study session will be the last meeting again held in city hall. Novak said due to a medical issue, one council member asked to have the next meeting held via Zoom.