Carthage mayor breaks two different ties on COVID-19 bills; council votes to form task force

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CARTHAGE, Mo. — City leaders in Carthage move forward with forming a task force to aid in the city’s response to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Task Force will be made up of leaders from the community, including businesses, medical providers, and the Carthage School District. It will also have members from the city’s department heads and city council members.

While the council reviewed the bill, some members suggested a recommendation to conduct a random sampling test for anti-bodies throughout the community. That way, they could get a good idea of where the community ‘is at’ with the virus.

Forming the task force passed unanimously, but city council members also discussed a number of bills surrounding the virus at Wednesday afternoon’s special meeting.

One bill would have limited the use of public parks to groups of 10 people or less. However, this would have excluded the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show, youth baseball and softball games, and the Jasper County Youth Fair.

The council’s reasoning for excluding these events is that each has its own specific guidelines for slowing the spread. For example, youth baseball and softball games are limited to two adults per player. These events were also the only major events in town until August 1st, which is when the order would have expired.

The bill would have gone into effect immediately upon its passing, but council members voted the bill down in a 4-6 decision.

Members were torn betwen finding the balance between implementing restrictions and trusting their community, which seemed to be the meeting’s overarching theme as two more bills made their way to the table — both putting the deciding vote in the mayor’s hands.

Council Bill 20-33 would have revised social gathering guidelines to help limit the spread of COVID-19. The rule would have limited businesses with a building size of less than 10,000 square feet to a maximum of 25% occupancy, while businesses larger than 10,000 square feet would be limited to 10 percent.

The bill would have also reinforced strict social distancing guidelines when people were not at home. Up to $250 in fines would have been inflicted on violators.

Like the parks bill, this one would have gone into effect immediately and lasted throughout the month of July, but also like the parks bill, CB 20-33 did not pass. The vote finished in a 5-5 tie, with mayor Dan Rife breaking it with a ‘nay’ vote.

Finally, city leaders also considered adopting an ordinance requiring face masks in public. Similar to a proposed Joplin ordinance that failed last week, Council Bill 20-34 would have required anyone ages six or higher to wear a face mask anytime they are indoors in a place where the six-foot rule cannot be maintained.

Exceptions to the rule would have been people with medical conditions, such as asthma, and people exercising. Across the community, businesses would have been granted the right to refuse service based on non-compliance while violators of the bill could have been subjected to up to $500 in fines.

Carthage PD Chief Greg Dagnan was in the meeting to provide resources to the council on what enforcing this bill would look like. According to Dagnan, realistically, enforcement would be impossible and could even lead to situations that “could put the city in a bad light.”

CB 20-34 also ended in a tie, but once again, was voted down with a ‘no’ vote from the mayor.

The meeting itself lasted roughly two hours, ending with some frustration from both sides of the council. Some argued that the city was not taking the steps necessary to protect the public from the virus and some even requested to adjourn early. However, others argued that enforcing these new laws would have been extremely difficult for the police.

The next regular meeting of the Carthage City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at 7 pm.

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