Green Bay approves mask mandate
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay city council approved a city-wide face covering, or mask mandate in a 7-5 vote at its meeting Tuesday, July 21.
The ordinance, which goes into affect on Monday, July 27, will require people to wear a face covering inside all public areas.
The vote came just before midnight following nearly six hours of discussion from both the public and alders.
Alders Barbara Dorff, Veronica Corpus-Dax, Bill Galvin, Kathy Lefebvre, Randy Scannell, Craig Stevens and Lynn Gerlach voted in favor.
Alders Mark Steuer, Brian Johnson, Chris Wery, Jesse Brunette and John Vander Leest voted against.
Mayor Eric Genrich unveiled the ordinance in a press conference Monday, July 20, after the topic received no recommendation from the Protection and Policy committee last week.
“Brown County still has the second most cases per capita in all the 72 counties in the state of Wisconsin,” Genrich said. “In my mind, that reinforces the necessity to move expeditiously to take whatever appropriate action we can to keep members of this community safe. I don’t believe it’s an undue burden. I think it’s a reasonable step to take. It’s a small sacrifice. And I think it’s one that the vast majority of us can take.”
Public comment on the topic lasted nearly three hours with dozens of individuals sharing thoughts on both sides of the issue referencing science, personal safety, enforcement ability and civil liberties.
“I just don’t feel like we should compromise on our American liberties, even though fear pervades,” said Green Bay resident Mat Miller. “Also, I’m concerned with the mask mandate creating a certain overstatement of the feeling of safety.”
Those in favor of the mandate said it was everyone’s responsibility to protect those around them.
“In order to save even one person, I truly believe in this,” said Green Bay resident Erin Beres. “It’s not about you. It is about other people. I just don’t get why it’s so hard to put a mask over your face. And maybe it doesn’t work 100-percent of the time, as the doctors say this is new. We don’t understand it. We won’t get it 100-percent and we won’t for a long time. None of us have all the answers right now.”
Every alder who spoke noted the overwhelming amount of communication – phone calls, emails, texts or Facebook messages – received from residents on both sides.
“It’s been a very contentious issue,” Steuer said. “In nine years on council, I’ve never had an issue quite like this.”
Corpus Dax said the decision was not one she took lightly and was one put on the shoulders of Green Bay because no other actions were being taken.
“I absolutely think this should be coming from the state, if not the county” she said. “But neither of them have taken any action so far. And I honesty don’t know if county would have taken this up if Green Bay hadn’t. We have citizens, and business owners, who are looking at us as alders to take action, begging us to take action.”
Before voting, alders spent more than an hour discussing proposed amendments to the ordinance.
Those approved include an exemption for places of worship, and enacting a $10 citation, plus court costs, for violations to the ordinance instead of the proposed enforcement of a trespassing fine.
Businesses which repeatedly violate the ordinance will be subject to administrative action, which could affect licenses in the future.
Steuer said he disagrees with the need for some type of masking requirement, but because Green Bay is just one of 24 communities in Brown County, he would like to see the county take the lead on this.
“The fact that we have 24 communities I think we need to make it consistent, that is why I’m looking to the county,” Steuer said.
Genrich said he is hopeful the passing of the ordinance will prompt the county to enact a county-wide face covering policy.
The city’s mandate would be rescinded if the county were to enact a “substantially similar” mandate.
Alders also approved an extension to the city’s State of Emergency proclamation, which will extend until 5 p.m. Aug. 19.
The mask mandate coincides with the length of the State of Emergency.
Both will be revisited at next month’s meeting.
“We can not say we are out of the woods,” Gerlach said. “We don’t know what’s ahead. The numbers in Wisconsin continue to rise and Brown County doesn’t look so good. We don’t know what’s ahead. I ask that you just extend this (the city’s State of Emergency) one more month and that will give us the opportunity to implement the mask program that we just adopted. And that could be the thing that turns the corner for us. And in a month from now we might be in a much better place.”
Galvin requested city staff provide council with a set of criteria on what things would need to look like for the State of Emergency to no longer be needed.
“I think we have to have some idea in mind so we can push to that objective and get things back to normal with our city government,” Galvin said.
The extension of the State of Emergency was approved 8-4.