Ames City Council will hold special meeting regarding face coverings (copy)


Jill Even

Mayor John Haila discussed draft approval of a citywide face covering ordinance, going against advice from Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa attorney general and the Ames city attorney Aug. 18.

Katherine Kealey

The mayor of Ames has called a special meeting of the Ames City Council regarding face coverings Tuesday. After recent COVID-19 positive test data for Story County, the consideration for the ordinances was moved up from Sept. 8.

“On Wednesday and Thursday, our positive case numbers in Story County were 2.5 times higher than the highest reported numbers since testing began in March,” said Mayor John Haila, according to a release. “Our 14-day average for positive tests is 14.4 percent, which is a significant increase over what it has been reported in the past month and a half. I believe this information warrants moving as quickly as the process allows.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds recently announced in a press conference that bars in Story County, along with five other counties, are now temporarily closed. The closures will remain in effect until Sept. 20.

In response to the pandemic, Ames City Council recently passed a face covering ordinance with no penalty to enforce it. Ames City Council 4th Ward Rep. Rachel Junck said the meeting was called partially because of the urgency for the issue.

“In the last meeting, I pushed for an ordinance that would be enforceable with a penalty to those that chose not to wear face coverings in public and I believe this is important because the science has shown that face coverings do drastically reduce the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “Without enforcement, the ordinance is really just toothless and us advertising that there is no enforcement is basically just advertising that we don’t have a penalty at all.”

If Story County had included a penalty in the ordinance, it would not be the first. Cities such as Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo have all adopted a mandate.

“I think it is extremely important that people take COVID precautions and wear their face coverings in public and social distance seriously so we can get the spread under control,” Junck said.

Ames City Council 2nd Ward Rep. Tim Gartin voted against both motions of the ordinance during the previous meeting. Earlier in the summer Gartin voted in favor of Haila writing a letter to Reynolds requesting permission for the authority to mandate masks. Reynolds has yet to respond.

Gartin also voted against the unenforceable mandate.

“If you are going to have a mandate, you should have some sort of way to enforce it,” Gartin said. “It actually doesn’t make sense to me to do what the Council voted to do.”

Gartin said although he thinks a mandate with no penalty is less likely to be challenged by the state, he would rather it be a resolution oppposed to a mandate.

Junck said the enforced mandate has made a difference in other cities and hopes the ordinance will help prevent Ames from getting high numbers of positive cases, but she doesn’t know what impacts it will have.

Due to the timeliness of the issue, Gartin said he would not be interfering with that and he is planning on voting in favor of waiving the three readings because there is nothing to be gained by the delay, Gartin said.

“If I thought, for example, if we hadn’t adequate had public input then it wouldn’t be appropriate because the public hasn’t had a chance to give input, well they have now,” Gartin said. “I don’t see that there is a reason or justification for me to delay something inordinately, so I am prepared to support them in their efforts to get this in place. Let me be clear, I have no animosity towards my colleagues, I actually think it is very bold and brave what they are doing. I can disagree with what they are doing without being disagreeable. I have a deep admiration for these folks, this just happens to be a point we are not on the same page.”

Regardless of the ordinance, both Junck and Gartin hope to see the Ames community come together as cases are rising to do what is best for themselves and the people around them.

“I would really hope that residences would take the City Council issuing a mandate as a sign that face coverings need to be worn,” Junck said. “It is not just about individuals, it is about protecting the health of our community and other people when you wear face coverings.”

Gartin said even with an ordinance or mandate they do not have the power to make everyone comply. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. virtually and can be viewed at Ames Channel 12 on YouTube

“What I hope the community hears from us, just because I am not voting for the mandate doesn’t mean it is not important,” Gartin said. “I absolutely think it is important, I would likely vote to support the mandate but we can’t just make up rules as we go along. Either the rule of law stands or the rule of law doesn’t. My hope is the community would embrace that we have a duty to each other, to live in such a way is to minimize the risk for those who are vulnerable in the community, that is what I hope happens.”