The Rexburg City Council delayed voting on an ordinance that would require people to wear face coverings in the city and its businesses.
“I’ve always learned that if I’m not feeling very good about something or if I’m very uneasy about it, I probably shouldn’t do it,” said Mayor Jerry Merrill. “That’s kind of where I’m at with this.”
Ordinance No. 1243 establishes standards for face coverings in public places and penalties for violations of the ordinance.
According to the ordinance, every person at a public place or a registered business must cover their nose and mouth with a face covering. Registered businesses in the city are required to enforce this and make a “reasonable effort” to comply.
Any person or business violating any provision of the ordinance can be fined $100 for the fist offense and $300 for a second offense. A third offense may result in a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, according to the resolution. Businesses which fail to comply with the ordinance a third time must close their business immediately upon notification until compliance is achieved and may even lose their business license.
A crowd of approximately 100 people gathered outside of city hall an hour before the council meeting started to protest the proposed ordinance.
Representative elect Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, was at the protest and addressed the crowd. He said although the local leaders of Rexburg mean well, he was stunned the city was considering fining businesses for not complying with the potential ordinance.
“It’s in times of crisis when liberties are at risk the most,” Nate said. “(Wearing a mask) is up to the individual… It’s stunning to me that the city council is considering fining people, charging them misdemeanors and closing businesses if they don’t get their way on a controversial solution.”
Several members of the council expressed concern with the ordinance and said they felt the punishments to businesses were too severe because they should not be responsible to police people wearing masks.
“We barely got this at 5:00 (on Tuesday),” Council President Jordan Busby said. “It kind of blindsided me and I think we’re playing on some dangerous territory here. I think it’s the property owner’s rights to do what they want.”
Protestors were not allowed inside the building, leading to an influx of attendees on the city’s GoTo Meeting of over 100 people. Attendees interjected during the discussion of the ordinance several times.
Councilwoman Tisha Flora said she felt the community was split in half on wanting a mask mandate versus not wanting one.
“The part that is really bothersome to me is that we as a community, on both sides of this issue, have not been very nice,” Flora said. “I feel sad because we’re doing the best we can. The mayor is out there every night and we had to literally be escorted into this meeting — how sad.”
One virtual attendee said councilmembers did not have to be escorted because the protest was nonviolent, and several others agreed in written comments online.
The city considered a mask mandate in July which did not pass. Instead, the council passed a resolution to encourage members of the public to wear face coverings.
Last week, Madison County was moved into Eastern Idaho Public Health’s critical-risk status of its COVID-19 response plan. Gov. Brad Little also moved the state back into a modified stage two of the Idaho Rebounds plan.