Council features wide-ranging, deep-diving pandemic talk

Face masks and dunce caps
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The proverbial gloves came off, along with other articles of clothing, during a contentious discussion about the pandemic at last week’s Dillon City Council meeting.

The informal, impromptu debate came late, near the end of the approximately 90-minute get-together, and only lasted a few minutes itself.

But it still managed to delve into numerous issues, including personal choice vs. public safety, participation without representation, privacy protections, a councilperson’s private life, the wearing of masks and dunce hats, dignity, a legal threat, interpretations of a governor’s directive on mask wearing and basic physical realities.

“Our by-laws state that to vote, you have to be present in the City Hall building, and I think we need to enforce our by-law,” said Councilperson Ray Graham, suggesting that councilpersons who are not physically present at meetings in City Hall should not be allowed to cast votes during council meetings,

Several city councilpersons—some whom may be under quarantine—have chosen to attend recent council meetings remotely, via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic, while others have continued to come to City Hall for those meetings.

“I take serious issue with that, on several levels, including legal. Under ADA, I believe pandemic qualifies under reasonable accommodations,” responded Councilperson Rich Wassall to Graham’s contention, citing aspects of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1996.

“If the council wishes to restrict the Zoom, I will take it up with my attorney,” vowed Wassall.

“Secondly, if you are proposing to sit Mary Jo or Russ or myself or any other individual that you may choose to put over in the corner with a dunce hat,” continued Wassall, alluding to fellow Councilpersons Mary Jo O’Rourke (who repositioned herself from her usual spot behind the council table for the meeting) and Russ Schwandt (who attended via Zoom) and to himself—as Wassall attended one city meeting this year while sitting alone in a cordoned off corner of City Council Chambers.

“I have a limited view of council,” said Wassall in reference to what he could see through his Zoom feed of the proceedings last Wednesday in City Council Chambers.

“My impression is that no one at the council, including Mary Jo, has masks on,” said Wassall, shifting the debate to another hot-button issue.

“Mr. Mayor, could you tell me why you are not wearing a mask, not taking care of social distance?” asked O’Rourke.

“Well, first off, the governor says if I’m the one running the meeting, which I am, I don’t have to. The rest of them, I’m not going to enforce it if they don’t want to do it,” asserted Klakken.

“It’s my choice,” asserted Councilperson Dan Nye.

“I’ll walk out with one,” said Councilperson Bill Shafer.

“You’ll walk out with one?” asked O’Rourke.

“With one on, just because I’ll be closer. I feel safe being this far from these guys. They aren’t turning and sneezing on me or coughing on me,” said Shafer.

“When you came in, I saw you when you came in and you did not have a mask on. I didn’t see you put it on,” said Wassall.

“He did,” interjected Klakken.

“I’m not going to get into my own doctor’s orders—they’re private under HIPAA, and of no interest to Mr. Graham,” said Wassall, referring to the The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a federal law that set up privacy protections for information related to patient health.

“So, I will leave it at that. If the council wishes to restrict the Zoom, I will take it up with my attorney,” vowed Wassall.

“Well, on that note, I will say something as well,” said Councilperson Matt Kenworthy, who also attended last week’s meeting via Zoom.

“I have been under quarantine until the eighth of this month, which is just a few days away. And frankly, I feel it is gobbledygook,” added Kenworthy, before outlining his recent, extended close interactions with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“And I am negative. So, everybody who’s worried, if you’re scared, put a mask on. If you’re not, don’t,” said Kenwothy.

“But stop telling me to stop living for fear of dying. I will be at next meeting,” insisted Kenworthy.

“I think we can safely figure out how to social distance everybody on the council,” offered Graham on how safer arrangements could be made for the next council meeting.

“If you observe tonight, Mary Jo is sitting in the audience,” said Graham, of O’Rourke, who, in the interest of social distancing, moved from her usual seat behind the council table to one in the public seating area to create more space between her and some of her fellow councilpersons.

“You guys aren’t even—I mean social distance is six feet,” said O’Rourke.

“And you guys are not doing it,” added O’Rourke of some of her fellow councilpersons who remained seated near one another at the council table for the meeting.

Later, Wassall asked the mayor if the city has a policy in place to compel people to wear masks when they enter City Hall.

“No,” replied Klakken.

“There isn’t a sign out there that says, if you come in, you should wear a mask, I believe there is,” offered O’Rourke.

“That’s different,” replied Klakken. “He asked the question, ‘Is there a policy?’ No. Is there a sign saying we would like to have them have a mask on? Yes,” said Klakken, who pointed to how he’d had a plexiglas shield placed between city staffers at City Hall’s front desk and visitors.

“Actually, I think that’s better than any mask that you can put on to block and protect the staff. So, as long as the staff doesn’t put their face down into the hole...” said Klakken, referring to the space beneath the plexiglas shield through which people can advance letters and water bill payments.

“That would take some pretty good gymnastics,” joked Hand, who shortly thereafter called for adjournment.