Litchfield City Hall

Litchfield City Council members left no doubt of their support for local businesses during their meeting Monday night.

But that support stopped short of passing a resolution that would challenge Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders that have kept bars, restaurants and other small businesses closed during the past two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least for now.

Following a lengthy discussion, the City Council voted unanimously not to act on a request from Councilor Darlene Kotelnicki to consider a resolution “regarding Litchfield being a Constitutional & Business Friendly city.”

“The governor’s ears have been stretched to the limits of … he doesn’t really need to hear any more,” Councilor Vern Loch said. “I do not think we need (a resolution for) businesses to open. Common sense is going to prevail. I think the governor is aware of what all the communities are thinking and hoping for.”

That sentiment was shared by most of the other council members, some who spoke about resolutions passed by other cities and counties that challenged the governor’s orders, which they said probably went too far.

Earlier this month, the Lakefield City Council passed a resolution opposing the governor’s executive orders and declared Lakefield a “Constitutional and business friendly community.” The city council in Pequot Lakes passed a similar resolution. Closer to home, Cokato Township Board passed a resolution saying that as a “Constitutional and business friendly community,” the township “hereby declares its intent to oppose any infringement by Executive Order or any other directive on the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep their businesses open…”

In her memo sent to fellow council members ahead of Monday’s meeting, she thought it was time to consider a resolution, though with “a more positive tone toward supporting local residents and businesses….”

Kotelnicki’s memo explained that “Between the highway project and COVIUD-19 (sic), our businesses are in crisis. I think we all recognize this.”

Indeed, other council members expressed their support for local businesses, but not for opposing the executive order.

“I’m in favor of sending a message to our businesses that we fully support them during this time of uncertainty,” Councilor Ron Dingmann said. “As much as I support (local businesses) … I’m not ready to support any resolution that would defy the governor’s order.”

The Lakefield and Pequot Lakes resolutions “are all templated” and “I’m totally against anything like that,” he said.

Dingmann said he didn’t like the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the governor’s executive orders, but seemed to acknowledge the public health vs. healthy economy debate was fraught with challenges. If one followed only science of fighting the pandemic, many businesses would never reopen again, killing the local economy, he said. But if one took a “purely economics” approach, more busineses might survive, but more people might also die.

Councilor Eric Mathwig said he was approached by a resident in his ward, who was “leaning more toward doing something like Cokato.” But many more residents opposed that approach, while still trying to support local businesses.

Rather than a resolution or sending a letter, Mathwig said, he preferred waiting a couple weeks to see whether the governor loosened restrictions and began to allow more businesses to open in a safe way.

Walz announced May 20 a loosening of some business-related restrictions, allowing restaurants to open — with outdoor dining only. Salons and barbershops, as well as public and private campgrounds were cleared to reopen June 1.

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