Gov. Tim Walz may have taken Winnebago city leaders off the hook and could help making any decisions a little easier.
On Wednesday, Walz announced he will let a stay-at-home order expire on Monday and allow some businesses to re-open.
The governor’s move came on the heels of a City Council meeting pushing limits of a six-foot social-distancing guideline recommended during the coronavirus pandemic.
Council members got an earful Tuesday night from some of the nearly 30 people on why local churches and non-essential businesses should be re-opened.
Daren Barnett, pastor at First Baptist Church, says Walz is “skating around” state law to use peacetime emergency declarations aimed at slowing spread of the coronavirus.
Barnett says the governor is violating one’s constitutional rights protected under the First and 14th Amendments.
“People are hurting, the spiritual components of society are starting to wane and immorality is growing. There’s lots of trouble,” he says. “With us not being able to interact it is causing issues in the community. My counseling has tripled.”
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says people being able to worship would be “a breath of fresh air,” that is important and should be allowed.
“I don’t think people going to church is any different than what we are doing right now. You guys are even closer than you are supposed to be,” he says.
Councilman Rick Johnson says the public has been preached to on social distancing and for the most part has done a good job.
“Churches and small shops are going to be the last to open and I don’t know why. Your conscience just asks you, ‘Why?’” he says.
Makayla Nepp, a lifelong resident of Winnebago and an EMT, says she and her husband do all their shopping in the community.
Unlike heavily populated urban areas, she says, Faribault County has a small number of COVID-19 cases and the state has not experienced a huge outbreak.
“We need to let go of the fear and look at the facts. We need to reopen our town with precautions before there is nothing left. Why do we want to lose the few businesses we have?” she says.
Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says the council needs more information and should not “go above the governor and overthrow authority.”
Councilman Calvin Howard wonders whether the council even has the power to defy the governor’s executive order.
“I’d feel a lot better if I knew we could make that choice (re-opening) without severe repercussions,” he says. “There are layers of jurisdictions, the county could say we can’t operate.”
Councilman Jean Anderson says Local Government Aid, which totals at least $500,000 annually, could be in jeopardy if the council ignored the governor’s order.
She says local officials also are acting in the best interest of public safety and don’t want anyone to possibly be fined or lose a license to operate.
Doug Hill, vice president and ag loan officer at First Financial Bank, says it’s time to get back to normal despite any potential risks.
“I have a sense that there are some people living in fear and I don’t think that has a good outcome in the long run,” he says.
First Financial president Bill Erickson encouraged the council to, “Take an attitude of what can we do, not what can’t we do.”
Barnett says the governor has gone too far and questions his motives for continuing the shutdown.
“Anybody can see it is being played politically versus what is best at this point. When has Gov. Walz actually taken care of what we want?” he says.
The council asked City Attorney David Frundt to research what they could legally do and plan to hold a special meeting for further discussion.
Anderson says the council at this time has no choice but to obey the governor’s executive order.
“We just can’t go rogue and do whatever we want. We have to adhere to the law,” she says. “I don’t think it’s about politics. We just have to hang on and see what happens.”
Under Walz’s new “Stay Safe MN” order, Minnesotans are asked to limit themselves to essential travel and stay close to home.
Retail stores, malls and Main Street businesses can reopen if they have social distancing in place for workers and customers and are at no more than 50 percent occupant capacity.
Bars and restaurants and other places where large numbers of people gather will not be allowed to reopen. However, gatherings of 10 people or fewer such as family celebrations will be allowed.
State officials are looking at ways to safely open bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons starting June 1.