UPDATE: More than 60 Wausau employees sign petition opposing mask policy

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 12:07 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Thirty more employees added their names Tuesday to a petition opposing a face covering policy for Wausau city employees, a list that now includes 64 signatures (at least two of whom are contractors). The Wausau Human Resources committee tabled a proposal Monday evening to introduce a face covering policy for city employees after 30 employees initially signed the petition opposing the proposal.

The petition was released to NewsChannel 7 on Tuesday, and does not include details about employee opposition. Employees adding their names come from a variety of city departments, including the city clerk’s, finance and customer service office, engineering, public works, community development, and inspections. At least 12 signatures were from the Wausau Police Department, which recently had to quarantine 11 staff members after an officer tested positive for COVID-19.

“I would certainly like to know why we have a petition, what their reasoning is,” McElhaney noted in the meeting on Monday. “I have a hard time making a decision without knowing from the employees--because this is for the employees.”

The agenda item was requested by Wausau mayor Katie Rosenberg, McElhaney says, and did not include a drafted policy or ordinance. Monday evening, the committee agreed to discuss the issue further with employees and draft a policy that would more efficiently meet various needs and concerns and return either in August’s regularly scheduled committee meeting or a special meeting to discuss further.

“We are just looking to protect our employees...and city services,” McElhaney said in a phone call with NewsChannel 7, citing the recent COVID-19 positive case at the WPD.

Two committee members, Dawn Herbst and Lou Larson, opposed the proposal in any form during discussion; neither wore masks, with Herbst arguing that masks do not protect the wearer from COVID-19. (The CDC recommends the wearing of masks to help prevent the spread from the mask-wearer to those around them.) The motion to table the proposal for further information was unanimous.

The petition was the first McElhaney said she had heard of employees opposing the idea, after she and others on the committee received an array of messages from the public after some confusion about who the proposal would apply to. The idea modeled after the Marathon County policy that went into effect Monday, the proposal was intended to apply to city employees when in public spaces or within six feet of each other, and would not have included private offices and desks.

The discussion comes on the same day Portage County is set to discuss a countywide draft ordinance for masks that would apply to the public, the first of its kind in central or northern Wisconsin. Marathon County’s mask-wearing requirement for county employees also went into effect on Monday, which McElhaney says represents the model the city of Wausau is considering.

In a tweet, Rosenberg said she’s recommending face coverings in public areas of city facilities, and places where people need to be within six feet of each other for longer than several minutes.

“The county has already implemented the same protocol,” Rosenberg tweeted. “It’s not overbearing. It’s smart.”

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