Herculaneum Mayor Bill Haggard cast the deciding vote Monday night to reject an ordinance that proposed a mask mandate to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Haggard voted to break the Herculaneum Board of Aldermen’s 3-3 tie vote on the ordinance.
Ward 1 Alderman Mike Burlage and Ward 2 Aldermen Chris Baker and Norm Seithel voted against the ordinance, while Ward 1 Alderman Dennis Tesreau and Ward 3 Aldermen Joe Burke and Edwin Edwards Jr. voted for it.
Burlage was the only alderman to change his vote from Oct. 5, when the board voted 4-2 to draft an ordinance that would have required people to wear masks in certain places inside the city limits.
If the measure passed, Herculaneum would have been the first city in Jefferson County to issue a mask mandate.
Haggard previously said he often wears masks in public but doesn’t think the city should mandate that people wear them.
Board members who voted in favor of the mask mandate said they believe the virus would continue to grow at a substantial rate unless additional measures were taken to reduce the spread.
According to the failed ordinance, the coronavirus positivity rate in the county rose from 3.5 percent on May 4 to 9.8 percent on Oct. 4.
As of Oct. 10, Herculaneum had the highest number of COVID-19 cases by ZIP code per 10,000 residents, at 446, an increase of 15 percent from the week before.
As of Monday, the Jefferson County Health Department reported 5,611
COVID-19 cases and 66 deaths.
About 12 people gathered outside City Hall on Monday hoping to speak during the meeting’s public comments forum. However, City Administrator Jim Kasten told them only a few people would be allowed inside since the city advises people to not come to City Hall and to watch the board meetings online because of concerns about COVID-19.
Four members of the public were allowed in the meeting to speak – two business representatives, including one from Sapaugh Motors, Herculaneum’s largest employer.
Both the business representatives opposed a mask mandate, Kasten said.
He said Suzy Davis, a member of the Jefferson County Health Department Board of Trustees, also spoke against masks at the meeting.
“She cited false numbers and conspiracy theories not based on fact,” Kasten said.
He said a Herculaneum resident who spoke at the meeting encouraged the board to table the issue until more information could be gathered.
Kasten said he was sorry the ordinance didn’t pass.
“I think people wearing masks is the most important thing we can do to curb the progress of this disease,” he said. “I don’t wear my mask to protect myself. I wear it to protect those around me. It’s disheartening to me there are people who don’t feel the same way. People protesting mask wearing are making it easier to infect others. I know it was going to be hard for businesses to conform to this and I feel and heard their arguments and reasons for limiting this. I appreciate the protective measures they take at their businesses. It’s an issue that should be taken up nation- or countywide, not a small city like Herculaneum.”
Herculaneum resident Amber Sebold, one of those gathered outside City Hall, said she is staunchly opposed to a mask mandate, but she did agree with Kasten that the issue isn’t best settled at the municipal level.
“I believe very strongly we shouldn’t mandate anything,” Sebold said. “This should be a personal choice.
“The issue is whether it should be mandated or not. All this would do is hurt the city and people wouldn’t spend their money here. This is such a small city; it’s totally different than the discussion on the county level. People can spend their money five minutes away. When I’ve talked to friends, they say, ‘We’ll just get our gas in Festus.’”
Eric Finkelstein of Imperial, who also was outside City Hall, said masks aren’t effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s no scientific proof that masks work,” he said. “I’m against the mask mandate and I won’t do business here or spend money at Cracker Barrel, Sapaugh (Cadillac) or Buchheit. I’ll find other places that don’t have restrictions.”
Angelica Ittzes of Hillsboro, another person who waited outside City Hall, said mask mandates are unconstitutional. She said family members have medical reasons not to wear masks.
“We do a lot of business and spend money here,” Ittzes said. “To be on the safe side, businesses are saying despite your medical condition, we can’t allow you in the store. That makes it difficult for our family to go places together.”
The proposed ordinance said wearing masks would help control COVID-19, help prevent medical systems from being overwhelmed and help avoid more stay-at-home orders and the related economic damage that would cause.
When developing the ordinance, city leaders said they looked at recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force, St. Louis Sports Medicine COVID-19 Task Force and local health care systems that said wearing masks and social distancing help slow the spread of the disease.
If the ordinance had been approved, employers in Herculaneum would have had to provide masks and assure their employees had clean masks at all times.
The failed ordinance included exemptions for those who were outdoors with the ability to stay at least 6 feet apart; at home around members of the same household; in their personal vehicles; eating or drinking inside or outside a restaurant, provided they were 6 feet from people at other tables; and in business or office settings where 6 feet of social distancing is possible, as well as for those with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent wearing of masks and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
There also would have been exemptions for dentist appointments and other similar services, as well as for medical personnel or state or federal law officials who would need people to remove masks.
Businesses would have been required to post signs at entries and exits that masks are required to be worn inside.
Violators of the ordinance would have been subject to a $15 fine for an individual and $100 for a business.