Following Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson’s decision to issue an emergency executive order on Tuesday that mandates mask-wearing inside buildings within city limits, plenty of questions have popped up from residents.
Everson’s executive order requires residents to wear masks or face coverings inside all buildings in the city when 6 feet of separation is not achievable. That went into effect immediately.
However, the Mitchell City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23 at the Corn Palace to vote on a separate mask ordinance. The ordinance that the council will consider to adopt on Monday has similar guidelines to the executive order, but the public will have another opportunity to weigh in. If approved, the ordinance will go into effect when it’s officially published.
City Attorney Justin Johnson drafted the council’s proposed mask ordinance, and he’s been receiving a steady flow of questions since Monday.
Under the ordinance, there are some additional exceptions that include anyone who is engaged in a recreation activity such as basketball, hockey and swimming, would not be required to wear a mask or face covering during the respective activity. In addition, Johnson said the ordinance also exempts children under the age 5, individuals who have a medical condition or disability preventing them from safely wearing a mask and individuals who are eating food or drinking beverages even if they are less than six feet apart from another individual.
In an interview with the Mitchell Republic on Wednesday, Johnson answered some of the frequently asked questions he’s been receiving:
Q: How will the mask ordinance be enforced?
A: The enforcement language reads, “violation of this ordinance may result in a fine, and multiple violations may result in further enforcement procedures including legal action.” The immediate intention would be to not start going right into fines or other enforcement actions, but the focus is going to be on trying to educate people to get them to understand when and what they should be wearing for a face mask.
Q: What are the minimum and maximum penalties for violators, whether that be a fine, misdemeanor paired with jail time?
A: Just like any other standard violation under city code, the potential maximum penalty is the equivalent of a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30-days in jail.
Q: Do members of the same family have to wear masks in public buildings, if they’re sitting together?
A: There is not a specific exemption in the order for family members. Masks would be required for family members inside buildings, if they aren't able to have six feet of separation.
Q: Does this order apply to churches and places of worship?
A: Yes. "Under the ordinance, it applies to churches,” Johnson said. “Just like any of the businesses or public buildings, a mask would be required if unable to be six feet apart. That includes family members."
Q: How many violations can an individual commit that will result in a fine or misdemeanor?
A: “I can’t say there is a specific amount of incidents or violations that would result in a fine or anything like that,” Johnson said.
Q: How will businesses be expected to follow the mask mandate?
A: Johnson said the ordinance itself is directed toward individuals in the city, meaning businesses will have leeway in how to approach the ordinance. While it’s a requirement for the individuals to wear masks in the situations outlined in the ordinance, it is not a requirement for businesses to enforce that themselves.
“Our hope would be that businesses encourage people to follow the ordinance and hopefully help people understand as to when they should be wearing masks,” Johnson said.
Q: Depending on the council’s approval of the ordinance, what authority does the mayor have for the ordinance should he want to repeal the ordinance before the 60-day period that the ordinance is automatically repealed, if the council decides not to extend?
A: The mayor wouldn’t have any hand in the ordinance itself, as it would come back to the City Council if they wanted to extend it or repeal it earlier than the 60 day period. The council decided on Monday that they can modify that 60-day period by further resolution at any time before the 60 days is up. While the mayor’s executive order was 30 days, the council’s proposed ordinance was 60 days.
Q: Can the mask mandate legally be enforced at the city level?
A: “Yes, I believe it absolutely can be enforced at a local level,” Johnson said. “Now, are we going to be able to enforce it in every single situation every time someone may be in violation? No, I don’t think that will be feasible.”
Q: For individuals who have a medical condition or disability preventing them from safely wearing a mask, are they required to have a medical note with them at all times?
A: No. Johnson said at this point, the city won’t be enforcing the medical note requirement. At this point, we wouldn’t be looking too much into that.
“If we at some point think people are abusing that, then we may have to reevaluate how to approach that. But at this point, it is not going to be a point of emphasis,” Johnson said.
Q: Can the council make changes and amendments to the ordinance at any time? If so, what would that process entail?
A: Johnson said if the ordinance is approved, the City Council would still have to bring the amended changes back through two public meetings with at least five days in between and then legal publication.
"The only real difference that can be changed at any time by resolution is the 60-day time period that it is in effect. A resolution requires just one meeting and can be voted and adopted at that first meeting," Johnson said.