De Pere approves mask mandate in 5-3 vote
By Heather Graves
DE PERE – The De Pere Common Council has followed the City of Green Bay’s lead and passed a face covering ordinance 5-3 at a special board meeting Tuesday, July 28.
Because the mandate didn’t receive an unanimous vote, it won’t go into effect until after the ordinance’s second reading, if it passes again, at the council’s next regular meeting scheduled Aug. 4.
Alders Amy Chandik Kundinger, Shana Defnet Ledvina, Jonathon Hansen, Mike Eserkaln and Casey Nelson voted in favor of the ordinance. Alders Kelly Ruh, Dean Raasch and Daniel Carpenter voted against it.
Mayor James Boyd called for the special meeting last week after proposing the ordinance to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I have talked to medical professionals, our health director and health department and city staff regarding mandating masks,” Boyd said. “But, please understand, the decision to call this special session was solely mine. I could not wait any longer.”
He said it was time for local city leaders to step up and address the pandemic.
“Over the past few weeks, it’s been obvious to me that for us to move forward and get a handle on the virus and slow the spread that we in De Pere need a mask mandate,” Boyd said. “I have been waiting for the leaders at the federal, state and county level to step up and make some hard decisions. That has not happened.”
The ordinance is similar to the one passed by the Green Bay council.
Boyd said plans were in the works to propose an ordinance in the City of De Pere before Green Bay took up the issue, but staff decided to hold it to see what transpired in Green Bay first.
“We were already prepared to go ahead, but decided it was best to wait to see what Green Bay would decide,” Boyd said. “The resolution before you is very similar to the Green Bay ordinance.”
The mandate will require the public, ages 5 and older, to wear a face covering in public spaces.
Exceptions include those with medical conditions, places or worship, those exercising, being outside and those eating or drinking in a restaurant/bar.
For the public comment, which spanned nearly two hours, the story was the same as it was in Green Bay.
During the meeting, many of the comments were in opposition of the mandate, but alders commented leading up to the meeting they received an overwhelming amount of communication in support of the ordinance.
“We’ve been receiving feedback on this since it was announced last week in the form of emails and phone calls,” Ledvina said. “I’ve received 132 emails and phone calls before tonight’s meeting and 70 percent of the people that contacted me supported a mandate. I think that happened in Green Bay as well, where alderpersons in Green Bay received a lot of support on the front end of the meeting and then during the meeting the majority of people that spoke were opposed.”
Those that spoke in favor of the mandate during Tuesday’s meeting said it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to slow the spread of the virus.
“The proposed ordinance is intended to protect the health of the residents and the visitors of the City of De Pere,” said resident Chrystal Woller. “I believe we have a duty to protect the vulnerable population in our community by doing three things – wearing a mask, watching our distance and washing our hands. Until we have a vaccine, or an effective antiviral to combat COVID-19, these are the only counter measures we have in our toolbox.”
Others saw the mandate as an infringement of their rights.
“It is 100-percent government overreach that is going to cause division, discrimination and fear,” said resident Charissa Coldagelli. “It is my health and it should be my choice.”
Much discussion among alders was whether a mandate was needed or an advisory resolution would suffice.
“If the goal is to act for the greater good, and we already foresee some issues with enforcement, wouldn’t we get more buy-in from the people if we preceded with an advisory instead of a mandate,” Ruh said.
Those who voted in favor of the mandate said it was necessary to help protect the community.
“For me to vote to have my 6-year-old to have to wear a mask when he starts kindergarten this year – it’s horrible that we are in this situation, but unfortunately we are in this situation and we are here to try and make the best of it,” Nelson said. “And the best way out of this from everything we know today, is wearing a mask. It’s not comfortable, it’s not fun, but we are all doing our part.”
The city is planning on creating and distributing education materials to help businesses bring clarity to customers on what the mask mandate guidelines will be.
More information on that will be coming from city staff soon.
Alders chose to table the resolution outlining the penalties for violating the ordinance until the Aug. 4 meeting in order to receive feedback from the city’s police department.
In its current form, the penalties for the first offence would be $10, the second offence would be $25 and the third and subsequent offences would be $50. All would include additional court fees.