MUSCATINE — Mayor Diana Broderson was unable to finish reading a proclamation requiring the use of masks or face coverings Sunday afternoon when a group of about 50 residents gathered in front of Muscatine City Hall to protest the requirement disrupted her speech to the point she had to end it.
According to the proclamation, which can be viewed on the City of Muscatine Web page, beginning at 6 a.m. Monday, July 6, masks will be mandatory inside public areas as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19. While the proclamation specifies the police can treat infractions as a municipal infraction which has a penalty beginning at $500, Broderson hopes this would not be needed. She likened it to people in the community shooting off fireworks in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, saying she did not believe any citations were issued to people lighting fireworks, and the police just gave people warnings.
“Nobody is going to be hauled off to jail,” Broderson said after the aborted press conference. “This will give our police officers a tool to use as they see fit, but our police officers know what they are doing and they will handle this like they handle every other thing.”
Broderson said people can be deemed exceptions to the proclamation for medical reasons. People can be exempted if wearing a mask interferes with their job, would create a workplace hazard or unsafe environment, or if a mask makes a medical condition worse for the wearer. She said most people will be able to just explain that they have a medical reason for not wearing a mask if questioned.
Before having to leave the stand set up on the front steps of city hall, Broderson said Muscatine is only just reopening and counts on businesses for its survival. With a dramatic upswing in the number of COVID-19 cases in nearby counties, such as Scott and Johnson counties, she hopes to stop an upswing in cases in Muscatine that could force a second closure of businesses.
In the crowd of people attending, few of whom wore masks, Randy VanZee said he opposes wearing face masks and wanted to hear what Broderson had to say about the issue.
“There is no scientific proof they work,” he said. “If they work — we have been doing this for four months. Social distancing, masks, shutting down the economy. So, why is it still spreading? Where in the Constitution that says my rights can be revoked because of a respiratory flu?”
Covid-19 is a novel respiratory virus with no cure or vaccine. There have been 2,874,396 confirmed cases in the United States since the pandemic began in late 2019 and 129,870 people have died. In Iowa, where cases have been climbing since the state loosened restrictions on businesses, there have been 31,377 confirmed cases and 721 deaths.
Since the virus was discovered in December 2019, scientists have been learning more about it over time. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are recent scientific studies that show face coverings help reduce the spread of the virus.
Sitting under a shade tree from the 90-degree day, Logan Hickman carried a white board with ways a mayor can be recalled.
“I think she is overreaching,” he said. “If she doesn’t stop we may have to recall her. She may think she is the queen bee of Muscatine, but this is not a monarchy and we don’t have to bow to her demands, especially when the governor said we are free to do what you want.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds has only said people should follow Iowa Department of Health guidelines, which do not require the use of face coverings.
Broderson said she has the authority to issue such as mandate. She said the proclamation was made in conjunction with the city attorney. She cited the Iowa Constitution which says municipal corporations are granted home rule powers to determine local affairs and the state should not interfere unless a current law is being violated. Broderson also cited Iowa statute 372.14 saying a mayor may take command of the police and governance of the city by proclamation upon the issuance of an emergency declaration. At that time the mayor has all powers granted the sheriff to suppress disorders.
Recently the American Civil Liberties Union said mandating the use of a face mask is similar to a restaurant being able to refuse service to a customer not following home rule.
But the Iowa Attorney General recently said municipal proclamations must be consistent with the governor's declarations, so a city or county proclamation requiring face coverings would not be consistent with the governor's declarations.
In the crowd of people who attended the reading, city council members Dewayne Hopkins, Osmond Malcolm and Peggy Gordon watched the presentation. While Malcolm and Gordon wore masks, Hopkins did not. He said he is a Vietnam veteran and feels it is his right to choose if masks should be worn. Gordon disagreed, saying it has been proven masks can stop the spread of COVID-19. Malcolm said the city council is able to override the mayor’s proclamation, but he does not believe it will.
“If it can save someone’s life, it is kind of hard for me to object,” Malcolm said.
During Thursday’s meeting, Broderson was not present and the council did not discuss the possibility of mandating the use of masks.
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