Amendment would change rules to recommendations

The Brookings City Council took the first step Tuesday toward amending an ordinance to relax the COVID-19 rules businesses currently have to follow, potentially making them recommendations as soon as next month.

The first reading of amended Ordinance 20-010 was approved on a 4-3 vote; it is not in effect. The council will decide if it will go into effect during the second reading on June 30. If approved then, it will run until the end of August.

Ordinance 20-010 was proposed to extend Ordinance 20-007, which is set to expire July 13.

The council approved Ordinance 20-007 in early May to set rules for businesses to re-open after the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That ordinance passed 6-1 with Councilor Leah Brink the only dissenting vote.

Open forum

Bradley Walker addressed the council during the open forum, asking why the council permitted and took part in the Justice for Black Lives demonstration on Friday.

He accused the council of discrimination by placing one group’s interest over others with the large public gathering. 

“I’m not opposed to the right to protest; I do oppose preferential treatment,” Walker said.

He also mentioned the city closed the pool under the ordinance due to concerns about COVID-19. Walker asked how much taxpayer money went to pay overtime for police officers during the demonstration and how much it cost other law enforcement agencies to provide support. 

“I would prefer that money going toward serving the entire community, not just one specific group or groups. Isn’t unity and equality what the protest was all about?” Walker said. 

Ordinance 20-010

Mayor Keith Corbett reminded everyone that Ordinance 20-010 was under a first reading, which meant the council would listen to input from the public.

City Manager Paul Briseno explained Ordinance 20-007, and that Ordinance 20-010 has “the same exact wording” as 20-007. The council has four options: do nothing on June 30 and Ordinance 20-007 will expire July 13; approve Ordinance 20-010 and it will expire at the end of August; table Ordinance 20-010 and implement it at a future date; or rescind Ord. 20-007. 

Steve Timmerman acknowledged the intent of Ordinance 20-007 was to “flatten the curve” and keep the number of COVID-19 cases down to a manageable number for the health care workers. With more testing has come more confirmed cases, he said, but things seem to be stable. 

Ordinance 20-007 had “unintended consequences,” and wound up hurting small businesses, Timmerman said. He knew of many small businesses that are closed and waiting for the council’s next move. If the council pushes out the rules of Ordinance 20-007, businesses are left wondering what they will be able to do and if they will have employees able to work for them. 

Timmerman said he agreed with what Walker said about it being inconsistent that the council promoted the Justice for Black Lives demonstration in light of this ordinance.

“I think the community is well aware of where we are with COVID; they understand the consequences,” and should keep using the best practices, Timmerman said. 

“My admonition to you and what I respectfully request is that you rescind … and allow businesses to get back to normal as best they can,” Timmerman said. 

Medical update

Dr. Richard Hieb gave an update on where the medical community is regarding COVID-19.

“We have had four cases diagnosed in the city (recently): one on Wednesday, one on Thursday, one on Friday, and one on Sunday,” Hieb said. 

The county’s COVID-19 count stands 24 total positive tests, and 16 of those people have recovered, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

There is one person hospitalized with COVID – “the first one we’ve had,” he said.

“As of yesterday, (we’ve) been able to start testing symptomatic, not-high risk patients. I tested 14 people yesterday,” he said, adding he did not have the results. 

“I think a week from now, being able to test those kinds of people, we have a much better idea of what’s gonna go on in the city,” Hieb said.

He’s not sure if we’re on the peak or if it’s still coming in the future. 

“I’m not gonna tell the city council what to do. If I did know, I would, but it’s a tough situation. I just want you to have that information to make your best decision,” Hieb said.

Councilor Patty Bacon asked Hieb whether the increased testing will give the council “a better feel for opening up the community” when they meet on June 30 for the second reading of Ord. 20-010.

“My first opinion is yes,” because it will give everyone more data, Hieb said. 

“Our concern is with a partial opening, we’ve had more contact. It takes two to three weeks to really know what affect that has. I think by then we would probably know what affect that had,” Hieb said, adding another “big concern” is centered on what will happen “in September when the college kids come back.”

Councilor comments

Brink said she’s heard words like spike and surge, “but with 24 total cases it doesn’t seem like a spike or a surge to me.”

She said Brookings County is 20th out of 66 counties in the state for numbers of cases, and only seven counties have more negative tests. Additionally, we have “abundant hospital capacity,” she said.

Sioux Falls has relaxed its restrictions and did not spike, and the Swiftel Center is opening up again, she noted.

She suggested an amendment to revise the rules to recommendations and change the wording to reflect that, as well as remove the penalty clause.  

Briseno clarified that while the Swiftel Center is open, it will be following guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the city of Brookings. That includes no more than 10 per group and being spaced six feet apart, and the staff will be masked. 

Councilor Dan Hansen wanted to clarify that Ordinance 20-007 would expire July 13 and Ordinance 20-010 would take effect July 14.

Brink thought the council might see some value in keeping the guidelines out there for another 60 days.

This would give everyone the opportunity to prepare and businesses can protect their customers and employees, including wearing masks, Councilor Ope Niemeyer said.

Niemeyer said he wouldn’t mind calling a special meeting for the second reading, instead of waiting for June 30.

Hieb asked if the council rescinds the ordinance, how difficult would it be to put the rules back in place in case of a huge upswing of cases.

City Attorney Steve Britzman said the city has the ability to implement emergency procedures “pretty quickly” because there’s a five-day waiting period.

“So, I think, within a week, we could probably take emergency action, if necessary,” Britzman said.

Public comments 

Bill Alsaker voiced concerns about the lack of testing, which leads to a lack of information.

“I’m very nervous” about Brookings relaxing the rules too much, he said, and that he would like the city to do more.

“I’ve had that conversation with the governor several times,” Corbett said.

Walker is concerned about future annual events, like the kite festival, Fourth of July parade, and Uncle Sam Jam. Since the city allowed the Justice for Black Lives demonstration, will it allow the other events, he asked.

He wants to end all the restrictions and “let things take their course.”

Briseno said it’s up to the organizers of each event what they will do, and the city works with them and advises them on logistics and legalities. For instance, if organizers decide to have the Fourth of July parade, the city will make sure they education and promote safety measures as much as possible. He said a vast majority of people were wearing masks during the demonstration on Friday. 

“There’s some give and take in a lot of this,” he said. “So the most important thing is trying to educate people.”

It’s up to the promoters of each event whether to have the whole event or to have just some aspects of it and not others, Briseno said. 

Vote

Bacon asked for clarification on the amendment.

Britzman said making Brink’s suggested amendment to Ordinance 20-010 would modify Ordinance 20-007. 

“It would give us flexibility if we did see a spike or a surge, we could modify that then again during that 60-day period,” Brink said.

The council voted 4-3 to approve the amendment to change the rules to recommendations and remove the penalty clause. Voting yes were Brink, Corbett, Hansen and Niemeyer. Voting against the amendment were Bacon, and Councilors Nick Wendell and Holly Tilton Byrne. 

The council then voted on the amended Ordinance 20-010 as a first reading. That vote was also split 4-3, along the same lines. 

The second reading and public hearing will be June 30.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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