At the Rexburg City Council meeting on Nov. 18, a mask mandate ordinance was discussed. Most city council members requested more time or that changes be made to the ordinance before it was passed, however, all agreed that something needed to be done to flatten the curve.
The zoom meeting opened to residents which allowed for a large group of anti-mask protestors to vocally share their opinions about the contents of the upcoming meeting.
Phrases like “you guys are a joke, (a) huge joke,” “this is ridiculous,” and “liberty” were shouted from online participants and heard over the opening parts of the meeting.
Mayor Jerry Merrill led the meeting and asked individuals online to mute their microphones several times throughout the discussion.
After a group of 5th graders shared a presentation they worked on about Rexburg titled, “To Main Street and Back,” and a public hearing about an Urban Renewal Plan, ordinance No 1243 began.
Merrill presented standards for face coverings in Madison County, to try to stop the community spread of COVID-19. These standards include requiring everyone to wear a face-covering inside and outside when other individuals are present. This includes restaurants, businesses and other public places where individuals are not specifically and individually invited.
Merrill also clarified misconceptions community members had about businesses closing down.
“We are trying to do the exact opposite,” Merrill said.
He said the council is asking businesses to cooperate to keep everyone in Rexburg safe and healthy.
This mandate was reintroduced because Governor Brad Little moved Idaho back into stage two of COVID-19 rebound.
Merrill asked businesses to put up signs requiring masks upon entry. He made clear that business owners have a right to communicate with their customers as they see fit, with or without a mask.
This concept was unclear to some council members. Another individual stepped in and further explained that as long as businesses exercise reasonable effort to get patrons to wear masks, the businesses won’t be required to turn away customers.
“We are just asking for additional help, and that help would be a reasonable effort to enforce these requirements,” Merrill said.
Protestors began chanting, “we will not comply,” and “let us in,” during the middle of Mayor Merrill’s remarks.
The meeting resumed despite the interruptions.
Another council member voiced his opinion and disagreement with the ordinance because of its timing. He said it would be normal to see spikes as college students move to and away from Rexburg.
Some council members preferred that Madison County support the mandate from Eastern Idaho Public Health or the ordinance created in July rather than the new mandate.
Protesters continued to shout throughout the meeting.
During a discussion about the hospital, a spokesperson said that currently, Madison Memorial is doing good in dealing with incoming and outgoing patients. This produced a loud scream of joy from the online protestors.
“You got a big cheer for that,” Merrill said.
The hospital spokesperson asked citizens to act in respect of those who are at risk in regards to COVID-19 by obeying Eastern Idaho Public Health’s mask mandate.
A citizen of Rexburg stood up and asked if he could ask some questions regarding the ordinance on behalf of the citizens of Rexburg. Due to this being an ordinance and not a public hearing, he was turned away, which resulted in “boos,” and more “let us ins.”
For the public to be able to comment on ordinances passed in the city, a public hearing needs to be open, allowing citizen input. For this meeting, that was not the case.
“It already is mandated, by the way, it is a law,” said one council member.
She spoke about how citizens of Rexburg are not being very nice about their opinions, whichever side they sit on. She expressed deep sadness for the response from citizens.
“We had to be escorted into this meeting,” said the council member.
Comments such as “you are the threat,” and “there was no violence, that is bull crap,” followed the council member’s plea for more respect from residents of Rexburg.
Scroll has not confirmed whether or not these threats are true. The council member did express feeling unsafe.
Merrill said that he felt unsettled and decided to wait to vote on the ordinance.
After Merrill announced this, the council member who expressed disappointment in the lack of respect from Rexburg citizens said she wanted to either pass the ordinance tonight or not look at it again because of the threats extended to council members and the need they had to be escorted into the meeting.
Merrill remained firm in his choice to put the ordinance aside until a later date.