At this time, the City of Yankton will not follow other communities in South Dakota in implementing a mask mandate in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
During a work session Monday night to hash out the Yankton city government’s response to the growing numbers, the board opted to go with an education effort rather than the process of enacting a mask mandate — but it was not by unanimous decision.
During the work session, City Attorney Ross Den Herder presented the commission with a number of options, ranging from doing nothing to an existing resolution suggesting masks to passing an ordinance with an enforcement mechanism.
The commissioners largely favored option number two, which would keep the masking resolution the same with the addition of an educational effort — one proposed by former City Commissioner Dan Specht.
“Nancy (Wenande) and I, Kasi Haberman and Ellie Highstreet have been talking the last few days with the support of some local leadership about how we can use some of the talents we have to educate the community and motivate the community through a marketing campaign effort,” Specht said. “What are some ways that we can influence the people around us to follow the CDC guidelines, keep our schools open, keep our businesses open, reduce hospitalization and infection rates? We all really know what to do; sometimes, we just need to be reminded to do that.”
He said that local entities are working on a 3- to 4-month marketing campaign meant to encourage Yankton residents to follow CDC guidelines in order to keep schools and businesses open while also working to reduce infection.
He estimated the marketing campaign around $38,000, of which $15,000 would come from the city. The city money would possibly qualify for reimbursement under the CARES Act, but City Manager Amy Leon cautioned the commission that they would have to submit the request and see what the state says.
Commissioner Amy Miner said she favored an ordinance with some sort of enforcement mechanism.
“We have to have some sort of mechanism in place,” she said. “We don’t have to lead with the hammer. … I’ve been teaching for a long time. You’re preaching to the choir with the education, but I know if I give an assignment to a student and I say, ‘You can do it or not,’ if I don’t have a consequence, I’m in a pickle.”
Commissioner Jerry Webber also spoke in favor of an ordinance.
“It seems like an ineffective way to deal with such a serious problem if we don’t have some kind of a consequence tied to it,” Webber said.
However, Leon said many communities have found enforcement difficult.
“The communities that have had these (mandates) in place in our area have not had a lot of luck with enforcement,” she said. “We’ve had the discussion that people are calling in to report the offense, but there’s not a good way to go about enforcing. In some cases, dispatches have been busy with calls.”
Yankton Chief of Police John Harris also spoke on the difficulties of enforcement.
Commissioner Mason Schramm said that a mandate — including the word itself — has too many negative connotations.
“The word ‘mandate’ has such a visceral and emotional reaction for certain people that it’s hard to look at that in a positive way,” he said. “I’d like to see a positive approach that’s not so antagonistic to a large number of our population.”
Commissioner Ben Brunick favored an approach in the middle of doing nothing and adding an enforcement ordinance.
“I am not in favor of enforcement; however, I am in favor of an ordinance,” he said. “I’m not in favor of going along with what we have been doing. … There needs to be a compromise that there is not enforcement but there is also not a green light to say, ‘Nothing is being done wrong by not wearing a mask.’”
Commissioners Brunick, Webber, Miner and Mayor Nathan Johnson were the only commisisoners to speak favorably for an ordinance of some kind.
With no changes sought on the existing resolution and little appetite to move forward on an ordinance, a discussion item on masking options was scrapped from the commission’s regular meeting agenda following the work session.
However, the public comment period saw several people — in person and on YouTube — comment against the idea of passing a mask mandate. A YouTube commenter even went as far as calling the commissioners communists for considering a mask mandate.
In other business Monday, the commission approved several plats and replats.
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