Marathon County COVID-19 proposed ordinance sent back to health committee

People gather to watch as the Marathon County Executive Committee discusses the proposed...
People gather to watch as the Marathon County Executive Committee discusses the proposed COVID-19 ordinance.(WSAW)
Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 5:18 PM CDT
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The Marathon County Executive Committee sent the proposed COVID-19 ordinance back to the Health and Human Services Committee Thursday.

The executive committee moved its meeting to a larger room in the courthouse, with another room for overflow to accommodate social distancing. Both were used Thursday as well as many people joining remotely either through phone or video conferencing.

Public comment was suspended after the board's organizational meeting in April. The state relaxed some public meeting requirements due to the pandemic.

As board supervisor chair, Kurt Gibbs told NewsChannel 7 Tuesday, during the meeting he recommended that the committee send the draft back to the health committee along with the letter they received from the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce. He also recommended that it be sent to a workgroup developed by the Wisconsin Counties Association to review the draft and recommend best practices.

Gibbs said in the meeting the WCA workgroup would take about a month to a month and a half to make a final review of the draft. The workgroup involves members from stakeholder groups such as business associations and health groups. Once the health committee gets the recommendations back and potentially writes a new ordinance, he said they strongly recommend some form of public comment or input before it moves forward.

Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Eckmann said he was happy with how the meeting went and believe the voices of businesses were heard.

"We want our communities to be healthy," he said. "We want our businesses to be prosperous. We want our economies to take off again and we, from our chamber perspective, we are working hard to make sure its members and non-members have the resources required to do this safely for public health."

Joan Theurer, the county's health officer, told NewsChannel 7 that based on her observations of the meeting, there is an opportunity for public education about what powers the health department already has and the intent when they utilize that power. She said they do not use that power lightly.

One of the powers echoed in the draft that is also in state statute is the ability of the health officer to commission

The statute under the section regarding isolation and quarantining individuals states:

The local health officer shall employ as many persons as are necessary to execute his or her orders and properly guard any place if quarantine or other restrictions on communicable disease are violated or intent to violate is manifested. These persons shall be sworn in as quarantine guards, shall have police powers, and may use all necessary means to enforce the state laws for the prevention and control of communicable diseases, or the orders and rules of the department or any local health officer.

Board supervisor for district 11, Alyson Leahy said some of her constituents were concerned about that piece of the draft in particular, as well as what they believed was an overly broad ordinance that consolidated too much power to one person. She also urged for better public education about the ordinance so people can understand the intent.

"The state put it upon the local governments to figure this all out again in terms of how we would enforce," William Harris, district 3 supervisor said, "so the measure was aimed just directly on enforcing on those people that would be out there trying to hurt other people."

The executive committee also discussed whether it should forward a recommendation to the full board about either continuing, modifying, or stopping the suspension of some of county board rules. Some of those rules that were suspended include public comment and requiring county members to vote in person.

Members mentioned that not all members are comfortable coming to meetings in person due to health concerns, while others would like to physically come to meetings more. Several also mentioned public comment needed to become available in some form. The motion passed to have options be laid out to the full board for possible changes to the rules.

The committee also discussed whether it should recommend to the full board that the county's COVID-19 emergency order be extended. It is set to expire June 26. The committee voted unanimously to recommend to extend it until Dec. 31, 2020 largely due to financial and funding concerns caused by the pandemic. The pros and cons of extending the order will be formulated and presented to the full board.

The next meeting of the County Board is June 18. To see previous coverage from the county's position

, and the business' concerns

. To read the current draft,