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Council member criticized for video showing breach of Mitchell's mask mandate

Mitchell City Council member Susan Tjarks was criticized for a video that showed her without a mask on, while standing less than 6 feet apart from another person.

Mitchell Councilwoman Susan Tjarks.
Mitchell Councilwoman Susan Tjarks.

A video that recently surfaced showing a Mitchell City Council member standing less than 6 feet from another individual without a mask on has sparked backlash.

At Monday night’s Mitchell City Council meeting, a local resident criticized council member Susan Tjarks, who was shown without wearing a mask in a Mitchell Main Street and Beyond Facebook video. The video of Tjarks surfaced roughly two weeks after the council approved a citywide mask ordinance in a 5-3 vote on Nov. 23. The video was removed shortly after it was posted on Mitchell Main Street and Beyond's Facebook page.

“I was really disappointed to see the video,” said Melissa Sigmund, a Mitchell resident, during Monday night's council meeting. “What also made me even more mad was to see the people who supported you saying it was OK, but yet when we don’t wear masks, we get ridiculed over and over again. But it is OK for you to make the mistake.”

Following Sigmund’s comments during the public input portion of Monday’s meeting, Tjarks refrained from responding to the criticism. However, a day after the video surfaced, Tjarks issued an apology on social media, which she shared on a local Facebook page dedicated to political discussion.

In her apology post, Tjarks wrote, “I just assumed I needed to take the mask off while we did the interview (not sure why) and thought we’d be able to maintain 6 feet of separation -- but in looking back at the video I can see there were time when we did not have 6 feet between us. It was a terrible lapse in judgment and I apologize.”

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Sigmund, who opposes the mask ordinance, pointed to Tjarks’ strong support for the city mask mandate as another reason the video angered her.

In October during Davison County’s biggest COVID-19 surge, Tjarks was the first council member to request implementing a mask policy as a safety measure in the fight against COVID-19. The mask mandate was met with mixed reactions from the community, as groups for and against the ordinance have recently formed and voiced their opinions at previous meetings.

“Of all the council members, you wanted the mandate and didn’t have the mask on, and it was frustrating to see that,” Sigmund said. “And then the video got removed like nothing happened.”

The mandate requires all individuals inside every indoor building within city limits to wear a mask or face covering if they are unable to be at least 6 feet apart, along with several other exceptions. Under the city’s ordinance, violators can face a maximum penalty of a fine with an undetermined dollar amount that depends on the court costs that the city accrues in its prosecution against mask violators, along with 30 days in jail.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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