Marshfield's Board of Aldermen met Thursday to discuss the language of a proposed masking ordinance, as well as the procedure for public comment at the board’s regular meeting this Thursday.

The board is considering a city-wide masking ordinance to help combat the spread of the coronavirus. If it passes, face masks will be required inside businesses and public areas such as schools, stores, waiting areas, sporting events, etc. The ordinance would go into effect on Sept. 15 and remain in place for 60 days unless amended, renewed or withdrawn.

With the passing of this ordinance, anyone over the age of 10 will have to wear a mask within city limits to help limit and prevent community spread. Common exceptions include when a person is eating or drinking, socially distancing outdoors or exercising while practicing social distancing, or if one has a medical condition preventing the use of a mask.

Marshfield Mayor Natalie McNish said there has been online speculation since the proposed ordinance over the city receiving money from the federal government for enforcing a masking mandate.

She addressed the rumors, stating, “The only COVID-related money that the city is eligible for is CARES Act funding. The CARES Act was developed by the federal government, and a portion of proceeds were sent to every state. The State of Missouri decided to send a portion of their money to all counties and the county holds the grant money that we are eligible for. It is a reimbursement-type grant, which means we spend the money for eligible expenditures and then ask for reimbursement on that.”

McNish also brought up the public concern that Alderwoman Vicki Montgomery has created and sold face masks to citizens in the community and should therefore abstain from voting on the masking measure. City Attorney Paul Link addressed the issue and said he believes Montgomery is not producing enough masks or making a large enough profit to constitute a conflict of interest.

Montgomery ultimately decided that she will be voting on the matter. “After speaking with our attorney and other public leaders, I will not abstain. I’ve decided on a process I’m going to use during our public comment — any messages sent to me and emails sent to the city — I’m going to take all of that into consideration,” Montgomery said. “I will tally each opinion and that’s where I will base my vote. As of right now I do not have a yes or no answer.”

The four members of the board will vote to decide whether the ordinance will pass. Mayor McNish will cast a vote in the instance of a 2-2 tie.

Both Aldermen Rob Foster and Mark Bowers expressed support of the ordinance, though Foster sent a guest column for today’s edition of The Mail to express his change of heart. As stated, Montgomery plans to vote based on community feedback and Stacy Lee opposes it.

Mayor McNish voiced concern about violations, stating, “I myself do not feel we have the manpower to enforce fines on this issue.”

Alderman Lee agreed, elaborating, “I don’t feel like we have the police force to be called away from a serious matter to address the mask mandate.”

Foster disagreed. “I trust the police to make a good judgment call when it comes to priority. And I also consider this ordinance a contribution to a life-or-death matter. It’s not something for me to prove; it’s here in black and white for us. I think it holds weight, and I think we have a police department that has our trust to make good judgment calls on where priority is, whether we have this ordinance or not.”

Alderman Bowers agreed with Foster and added, “I don’t think locals are going to abuse calling the police, knowing that they are busy. But if someone is making a huge scene or it’s a major problem, this way authorities can be involved.”

Alderman Montgomery said, “I feel that we’re already very understaffed with our police department anyway and it did happen in Springfield where people were calling the police right and left about masks. It does detract from what our police force is already overwhelmed with.”

“If you want to take the penalty provision out, it doesn't make the ordinance void,” Paul Link offered, “Springfield has the penalties but doesn’t really write any tickets, so is it worth having in there?”

After deliberation, Alderman Foster suggested a compromise on the ordinance to remove the fine of up to $100. “We could move forward with an ordinance without that and always amend it later on if it turned out it was not effective because there was no enforcement.”

The notion was unanimously agreed upon and the ordinance was revised to strike the violations section. The board will be hearing public comments prior to voting on the ordinance.

The session will be Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Webster County Justice Center. Those who wish to comment must be one of the first 50 people to arrive between 6 and 7 p.m. to receive a ticket to speak.

Those with a ticket will wait in a room separate from the meeting room, and tickets be drawn at random one at a time to be escorted before the board. Each speaker will have three minutes to elaborate on why they do or do not support the masking proposal.

Those who are not able to speak at the meeting may send comments or concerns to Mayor McNish at nmcnish@marshfieldmo.gov before the meeting. The meeting will be available to view via Zoom, accessible through the City of Marshfield website or Facebook page.

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