Thursday, June 4, 2020

Tomah city council supports turning wheels of commerce

The Tomah city council is hopeful common sense will prevail for citizens and management of the coronavirus.

During a special council meeting Monday night the council passed a motion that will keep Tomah City Hall closed to the public until Monday, June 1. Council meetings are expected to be open to the public by the regular monthly Committee of the Whole and city council meetings in June, according to city clerk Jo Cram. But meetings by teleconference will still be available to those hesitant to attend in person.

The council voted not to impose local restrictions that conflict with the Wisconsin Supreme Court that overruled Safer At Home restrictions put in place by state health officials and Gov. Tony Evers. That would have kept businesses closed until May 26. The state Supreme Court voted last week by a 4-3 vote with each justice voting along partisan lines to overturn Safe At Home.

Despite action by the high court there were some Wisconsin communities and counties that considered defying that decision in their own proactive efforts to slow the coronavirus spread.

The council was unanimous in its decision to allow Tomah businesses to ease back into a business flow. Alderman Dean Peterson was absent. Speculation what path the Tomah council would take was uncertain. After more than an hour of discussion the path was clear. 

Tomah mayor Mike Murray, himself a small business owner (Murray’s On Main) echoed the sentiment of countless small businesses across Wisconsin and the nation. Murray read a candid statement saying while fully aware COVID-19 is still a health concern; it’s time to allow wheels of commerce to turn. Murray was critical of state legislator's failure to provide a unified voice for business owners uncertain of their business future.

“I am asking for direction from our council for Tomah to continue,” Murray said.

He referenced statistics from the Monroe County Health Department which as of Monday recorded 15 positive COVID tests since the pandemic first made found a path to Wisconsin. Fifteen positive tests in a county with an approximate population of 46,000.

“Were people truly safer at home when large box stores remained open and were swamped because they were deemed essential when many small businesses were forced to close their doors,” Murray asked? “(Safer At Home) was not intent for us to go into hiding, but to give medical professionals a change to get a handle on things. It’s time to re-open the city.”

But council approval included consensus asking business owners and residents to use common sense as Tomah engages its own bounce back plan.

“I think the market will dictate who feels safe,” said alder Travis Scholze. “I don’t feel the city needs to put an order in place… our focus is to protect who we can protect, our city employees. I’m not sure we can control people in businesses.”

It was noted the Monroe County Health Department chose not to impose any local restrictions

Tomah police chief Mark Nicholson said, “By statute the Monroe County Health Dept. has the power to put rules in place. But they are following the (state) Supreme Court decision to allow businesses to ease into opening.”

In the end alderman Adam Gigous sided with his peers on the council. But he appeared hesitant to commit early in the meeting.

“We should be mindful now so we don’t have to be back here in two weeks and wonder what we are going to do if the number of cases spike,” Gigous said. 

Other aldermanic feedback, Lamont Kiefer feels business and resident behavior will reveal Tomah’s sense of responsibility.

“I don’t think we need restrictions, but we need to encourage people to follow (best practices),” Kiefer said. “Let’s see if they talk the talk.”

Donna Evans said, “I hope people use their common sense in public. We have to rely on them being intelligent. I’m still not comfortable with groups of 50 or 100 people. I’m not there yet. We need to push public education.”

Shawn Zabinski stressed the importance of honest, open communication to follow county health guidelines already in place.

Richard Yarrington urged businesses be sensible with their capacity. If virus numbers remain stagnant or decline, capacity can increase. Or just the opposite. If virus numbers go the other direction business owners need to be prepared to make a hard decision, he added.

Jeff Cram echoed support to allow businesses to gradually open with hope the public acts responsibly.

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