In a split vote April 27, Hutchinson City Council declined a resolution requiring all council members wear masks at council functions.
The resolution failed by a 3-2 vote, with Council Members Chad Czmowski and Mary Christensen voting in favor, while Council Members Dave Sebesta and Brandon Begnaud, and Mayor Gary Forcier, opposed the resolution.
According to Czmowski, the goal of the resolution was to emphasize that council members must be wearing masks or attending council functions virtually until Gov. Tim Walz’s mask mandate ends.
Under a June 5, 2020, executive order from Gov. Tim Walz, government entities were required to adopt a COVID-19 preparedness plan. Hutchinson city’s plan was created by City Administrator Matt Jaunich and members of the city’s human resources department. Within that plan is a policy that states “all employees, customers and visitors are required to wear a face covering while within city buildings,” City Administrator Matt Jaunich told a reporter.
He confirmed council members are considered visitors.
Begnaud said, “I personally don’t find (the resolution) necessary, especially if the preparedness plan that is already in place for the city already states and requires this stuff. I just don’t think it’s ... necessary.”
Not mentioned during the April 27 discussion was a formal complaint submitted to the city by former City Council Member John Lofdahl. It alleges Begnaud violated city policy by not wearing a mask while attending an April 19 Sustainability Board meeting, and Sebesta did the same by not wearing a mask while attending an April 20 Planning Commission meeting. The two councilmen declined to comment regarding the complaint.
Forcier said he makes certain to wear a mask when in contact with others but doesn’t feel a resolution is necessary.
At an April 13 meeting, council members voted on whether or not to end the practice of conducting their meetings virtually and return to in-person meetings. Jaunich reiterated the city mask policy during that conversation, and in the end the council voted 3-2 to continue holding meetings virtually until the mask mandate is lifted. Sebesta and Begnaud were the two nay votes.
The resolution offered April 27 states more than 565,000 Minnesotans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 7,000 have died. Those numbers seem to agree with state data available Monday morning, which showed 580,340 Minnesotans have been infected since the pandemic began, and 7,163 have died. Sebesta took issue with the use of those numbers.
“If you look at the real stats — those are big stats and I wish death on no one from that perspective — but if you look at the number of 565,000 compared to 5.6 million (residents) we have in the state of Minnesota, that’s 0.1089 percent,” he said.
Finalizing the equation shows it is actually 10.89% of Minnesotans who have been infected with COVID-19, and also 0.125% of Minnesotans who have died, or about 1.2% of those who have been infected.
“To me those numbers mean a whole lot more when you have a 97.5% of recovery,” Sebesta said. “Typically, large numbers seem to scare people and I’m not all in favor of that. So if you want to look at large numbers ... last year there was over 600,000 deaths due to heart disease, over 600,000 that were due to cancer, and overall there’s going to be 2.6 million across the United States that are going to perish due to one shape (or) form.”
The numbers Sebesta cited appear to be nationwide figures. According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent data from 2018, there were 8,553 deaths due to heart disease in Minnesota. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that in Minnesota there were 10,042 cancer deaths in 2019.
“Cancer is not given to another person, neither is heart disease,” Christensen said in response to Sebesta’s comment. “It’s not something that’s transmitted through the air.”
Christensen also acknowledged everyone is “COVID tired.”
“We are all tired of wearing a mask and trying to be the best we can,” she said. “We want to protect others.”
Begnaud said he believes the council should not be in the business of enforcing or requiring “anything of anyone,” and that it should move on and continue working together despite disagreement regarding masks.
“As far as protecting people, I 100% agree,” Begnaud said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be changing anyone’s minds or opinions regarding this. I do think that we as a City Council need to set a good example for the residents and demonstrate overall respect and understanding.”