CITY BEAT: ALARMING RISING NUMBER OF COVID-19 DEATHS, INFECTIONS CAUSE DECATUR CITY COUNCIL TO SEND STRONGER MESSAGE
• MASK UP, OR…City leaders who felt that asking, begging and pleading for months with residents to wear face coverings to help avoid the spread of COVID-19, had been ignored by many, took a step at Monday night’s city council meeting to emphasize they are serious because COVID is serious. The council voted 5-2 (Councilmen Rodney Walker and Bill Faber voted against the measure) to approve fines for not wearing a face covering. The ordinance applies to both individuals and businesses although an amendment was made to the ordinance which reduced the fines for individuals by half.
Before being amended to cut the fines in half, fines for individuals were set for $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense, $200 for the third offense and $500 for the fourth and each subsequent offense. Businesses will be fined $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses. The ordinance requires all people involved in an activity outside of their home to have on face coverings “while other persons are present.”
An important aspect of the ordinance is that masks must cover the mouth and nose. Too many people who have been wearing masks have not covered both their nose and mouth. Some have even worn them around their neck — or on their chin. That’s not acceptable now and is the same as not wearing a mask.
• SO, WHERE do the masks have to be worn?
(1) Shopping or working at retail businesses;
(2) Picking up food from a drive through restaurant or food establishment or curbside pickup from a restaurant or food establishment;
(3) Visiting a health care provider;
(4) Traveling on public transportation, taxis or rideshares;
(5) Interacting with customers, clients, patients, co-workers or any other person at a place of business or worship that is open to the general public;
(6) Performing services for state and local government agencies, where close interactions with other people are unavoidable;
(7) When feeling sick, coughing or sneezing or otherwise ill.
• MASK EXCEPTIONS noted:
(1) For children under two years of age;
(2) When engaged in physical activity such as walking or running while maintaining social distancing from others of not less than six feet;
(3) When alone or with members of the same household;
(4) When eating or drinking, whether in public or private.
• THE ORDINANCE also states: “A business, store, office, venue, property owner, manager or operator shall monitor those persons entering and remaining in or on their property, business or office and shall refuse admission, service and allowance to remain in or on their property to any individual who fails to wear a face covering, which face covering shall completely cover their mouth and nose, and be reasonably designed and made to inhibit, filter or restrict the passing of a person’s breath, sneeze, cough or other exhaling from one’s nose and mouth, Reasonable accommodations must be provided for those with a medical condition or disability that prevents the wearing of face coverings so long as doing so does not cause an undue hardship.”
So…there you have it. The pleading and begging to wear a face covering has turned into an ordinance with some teeth in it!
• MARTY WATKINS informed me Monday that he had turned in his nominating petitions to the city clerk as he seeks, in a third attempt, to win one of three seats up for election on the Decatur City Council.
Watkins said: “I am running because I believe that I have the experience and the qualifications to be an asset to the council. I am also running again to show the citizens of this community that I am sincere about being on the council. My concerns would be on the violence that our city is facing, the issue of wearing masks, focusing on how the council can help our small business stay afloat during this pandemic.”
• WATKINS had plenty of company when he showed up at the city clerk’s office to be the first to file Monday morning — so did Ed Culp and present council members David Horn and Chuck Kuhle. As I explained in last week’s column, when more than one candidate is there at 8:00 a.m. on the first day of filing, a lottery is held later to determine what order those names will appear on the ballot — since all are considered to have filed first. Also filing later in the day were Aldophis Cooper, Elijah England and William (Will) Wetzel.
• THE THIRD COUNCIL SEAT up for election is presently occupied by Councilman Patrick McDaniel, who announced several weeks ago that he will not seek re-election after serving for ten years. McDaniel is also mayor pro-tem and the liquor commissioner.
• CANDIDATES who want to make it official have from now (actually since last Monday) until Monday, Nov. 23 at 5:00 p.m. to file their nominating petitions for the three available seats. The petitions must be filed in the office of the City Clerk on the 3rd floor of the Decatur Civic Center, 1 Gary Anderson Plaza.
City Clerk Kim Althoff has made it clear that she will not be able to provide any legal advice “with regard to the election process.”
So, as I advised last week, make sure you have all the documentation you need which is specified in the candidate packet, because anyone who fails to provide ALL documentation required will be disqualified from getting on the ballot.
That’s happened more often than you think over the years that I’ve covered city government.
• SERIES ENDS — The Father Martin Mangan Lecture on Social Justice, normally held in early December, is now a casualty of the COVID-19 epidemic. For the first time since December 2001, there will be no Mangan Lecture this year nor any future ones. There is more information about Father Mangan and the series in this week’s print edition of the Tribune.
“It was a difficult decision,” explains Bob Sampson, one of the event’s organizers. “But the reality is there will be no large public gatherings for the remainder of 2020 and, perhaps, well into the future. The conjunction of the pandemic and other factors presented an opportunity to assess the future, leading to the decision to end the series.
“Even though the lecture series will end, Father Mangan’s spirit, his love for his fellow human being, and his goals of justice, kindness and understanding will continue to resonate.”
• THANKS to the IBEW Local 146 for once again putting up Christmas lights in Central Park and on light poles in downtown Decatur, About everything else has been cancelled this year, including the annual Christmas parade, so it is nice to get a little holiday cheer from seeing the lights up and down the street.
• YEA! DOUBLE YEA! It was announced last week that the Taylor Road Bridge over Ward Branch project is now finished and South Taylor is open. South Taylor is one of the roads I drive to get home and, since July 14 the work caused the closure of Taylor Road south of Enterprise Elementary School. Not only is the road open again, but was finished ahead of schedule. It was expected to be finished on Dec. 31st, but, SURPRISE! SURPRISE! — the bridge was finished and the road re-opened a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule! The new bridge looks great and thanks to Sangamo Construction Company for finishing the bridge ahead of schedule.
• NOW that South Taylor is open I hope that work on Route 51 will also run ahead of schedule once it starts in the stretch between Elwin and Decatur. That road is in such bad shape that it would be difficult to hold a buckboard race without throwing the drivers out of the wagon seats due to all of the bumps!
• OUR NEXT print edition will be delivered to the post office on Wednesday the same as usual, but Thursday will be Thanksgiving so there will be no mail delivered — delaying delivery by one day to our mail subscribers. Our newsstands will still be filled on Wednesday as usual and our online edition will be sent to subscribers on Wednesday the same as usual.
• WE HAVE been enjoying some incredible fall weather this year! Although COVID-19 has cancelled a lot of events in our community, it has not had any power over beautiful autumn days. The sun filling our days, along with warm temperatures, most of our days the past few weeks, has given us a special treat in the midst of a lot of depressing news. Let’s enjoy it while we can.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. each Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider portion of his program. While I’ve been discussing the issues impacting on our community via phone since last March, due to COVID-19 safety precautions, I still enjoy the conversation. It will be nice, when we get back to a “more normal” environment to be returning to the studio and the pre-COVID format of the show.