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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

City council declines to oppose Walz

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/3/20

ELY – A resolution opposing Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders that have temporarily shuttered numerous Ely businesses due to coronavirus public safety measures was voted down Tuesday night …

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City council declines to oppose Walz

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ELY – A resolution opposing Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders that have temporarily shuttered numerous Ely businesses due to coronavirus public safety measures was voted down Tuesday night on a 2-5 vote by the city council. A second resolution urging Walz to allow businesses in the city to reopen failed to advance to a vote.
Council member Al Forsman, who drafted the measures, was joined by Angela Campbell in voting for the resolution declaring Ely as a “Constitutional and Business Friendly Community.” The rest of the council voted against the action.
Minnesota deaths tied to COVID-19 surpassed the 1,000-mark last weekend and health officials said they expect a spike in cases this month. The second phase of the state’s “Safer at Home” re-opening plan went into effect on Monday, June 1. State officials continue to pay close attention to the daily intensive care counts, a key metric, as they work to manage the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm the state’s health care system.
Forsman presented the motion for consideration, in opposition to the measured re-opening steps, last week at a council study session and originally requested a special meeting so the measure could be passed quickly, but later rescinded that request.
Forsman said he considered other resolutions recently introduced in other communities in the state allowing businesses to open, including the city of Eveleth and some townships. He said he was willing to change language that would have the city defend business owners in court.
“I don’t want to put ourselves in a commitment to spend all of our dollars defending ourselves in court. The intent is there that we want to support our businesses but not commit to using all of our legal means,” he said last week. “I might have overreached with that. I think somehow we could also add in to include our churches and places of worship.”
Fear of reprisal from Gov. Walz and state officials weighed heavy on the minds of some council members who worried that the city could be penalized and not receive local government aid or bonding dollars.
They took the week to think about their actions and addressed the issue on Tuesday, a day after many businesses began opening in a limited fashion according to procedures spelled out by the state Department of Health.
Mayor Chuck Novak said at the May 28 study session he believes the city has an obligation to protect the rights of all its citizens.
“We take an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Minnesota and support the rule of law,” he said. “I don’t see us expending our resources enforcing these executive orders.”
On Tuesday night, Forsman noted that he received both community objection and support in the matter.
“I just want to point out that the resolution itself does not in any way force any business to open. It encourages every business that chooses to open to do so following the guidelines of the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health,” he said.
Council member Paul Kess argued that Forsman’s resolution also “intends to oppose any infringement by executive orders, and requests relief from Walz’s executive orders,” he said. “Personally, I prefer to have my health directives determined by professionals,” he added, noting that he contacted several health care professionals who oppose the resolution on the basis of public safety.
“The city is declaring itself separate from the Governor’s orders. I’m opposed to that,” Kess said.
Novak reiterated his opposition to the resolutions.
“This puts us in a controversial position moving forward considering what is going on in the state right now,” he said. “I don’t want to poke the Governor in the eye with a sharp stick after what has happened over the last five to seven days. This is the wrong time to proceed with this.”
Council member Jerome Debeltz said he was opposed because “the state could really hold things against us. It could hurt our LGA (Local Government Aid). This could hurt the people of Ely,” he said.
Council member Heidi Omerza seemed to base her continued opposition on the recent racial protesting in Minneapolis and across the world.
“To be fair, we were in a different situation a week ago, and I already voiced my opposition to this,” she said.
Council member Ryan Callen said, “I am worried about potential LGA getting slashed,” he said. “We also have a great working relationship with the Governor and St. Paul and I don’t want to risk that,” he said.
Campbell did not comment on her support for the measures.
Novak asked three times for a motion to advance Forman’s resolution “Urging Governor Walz to Allow Businesses in the City of Ely to Reopen,” and heard no response.
Outdoor seating
Council members adopted two resolution’s allowing for temporary outdoor dining in the city of Ely and for the ability of businesses to apply for a temporary permit from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to use the state highway right-of-way for outdoor seating
Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski said he believed that all businesses were to be allowed to open at 50-percent capacity on June 1. The majority of restaurant establishments in the city are on the state highway right-of-way on Sheridan Street.
“State law does not allow any alcohol sales or consumption on the right of way. MnDot is working on new rules for right-of-way use and it looks like we (city of Ely) would have the permit and enforcement,” he said.
Novak noted last week that the state fire marshal recently reduced business occupancy rates from one person per 30 square feet to one person per 60 square feet and Gov. Walz’s executive orders reduces that capacity even more. “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,” he said.

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