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UPDATED: Muscatine County attorney says mayor exceeded authority in issuing mask order

UPDATED: Muscatine County attorney says mayor exceeded authority in issuing mask order

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MUSCATINE — According to an opinion from Interim Muscatine County Attorney James Barry, Mayor Diana Broderson exceeded her authority by mandating that people wear face coverings.

During the regular Muscatine County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday morning, Barry said he had contacted the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on a proclamation Broderson issued requiring the use of face coverings in the city. While he had not received an answer Monday afternoon, he issued his opinion based on several previous opinions given by the Attorney General’s office.

According to a news release, Barry said Broderson’s mandate is not consistent with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamations and that the power to issue such a mandate has not been delegated by the governor to the city/mayor. Barry said he is not the city attorney and cannot comment on the legal advice given to create the proclamation. His opinion deals with Muscatine County operations, specifically enforcement of violations, he said.

Reynolds has only said Iowa residents should follow Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines, which do not require face coverings.

“So long as county offices remain closed to the public, I am advising Muscatine County, all elected officials and employees to abide by the governor’s proclamations regarding the pandemic and until further clarification or different directives are issued, but then so long as they are performing their official governmental functions/duties.”

On Sunday, Broderson issued a proclamation that all people in public locations in the city were required to wear masks. She said she hoped no citations would have to be issued, but the proclamation included a municipal infraction which can carry a $500 penalty. Barry said his office would not enforce any such citations, because the proclamation was consistent with the state.

The supervisors also delayed for a second time voting on whether to approve special funding to the Muscatine County Public Health Department to continue COVID-19 mitigation efforts, saying more information was required before the decision can be made.

No date was set for a second work session regarding the department’s request for an additional $135,000 for the next quarter. Public Health director Christy Roby Williams requested the funding to address COVID-19 on a quarterly basis so the department can continue its response. She submitted two budgets. One was the worst case scenario with the command structure at full capacity. The other operated at reduced capacity.

“We need to know where the money will come from," Sorensen said. “If this keeps up for any further amount of time the board will have to make difficult decisions.”

He said funding for the county to respond to COVID-19 was not budgeted, and the fiscal year 2021 budget had been certified before the county needed to respond to the pandemic. The money allocated for public health was determined and already allocated, he said, and the decision would be where to cut elsewhere to fund this increase.

Roby Williams said her department has spent weeks staying informed about the spread of COVID-19, managing and communicating with the community in multiple languages, and connecting with farmers who hire migrant workers to teach them about virus avoidance. The department also helps businesses with reopening, and would need to continue developing outreach to desperate and vulnerable populations. The goal was to reach people who might not be getting information from other sources.  

As of Monday morning, Muscatine County had 691 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 50 active, an increase of 17 since Friday, Roby Williams said. Four people are hospitalized. She said there is a link between the increase in cases and adults at ballfields or bars. There have been 44 fatalities from the virus in Muscatine County.

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