Mask order

The Rusk County Board discussed the use of face masks as they pertain to the Wisconsin Executive Order #82 related to COVID-19 during the Aug. 25 board meeting.

County supervisor Josh Unterschuetz opened the conversation saying his position is that of personal responsibility and that he has a difficult time regarding the governor’s mandate.

Believing people have the freedom to make choices in the best interest of themselves, Unterschuetz does not believe COVID-19 should be cause for emergency considering the recovery of COVID-19 is 97-99.75 percent and the chance of not surviving the virus is less than two percent.

At the time of the meeting, the county has two active cases of COVID-19, 24 total cases, one death and no active hospitalizations.

Forcing individuals by government mandate to take care of other individuals is a collectivist form of thought which Unterschuetz said he disagrees with because the United States of America was formed on an individual form of thought. The government should not be responsible for health, says Unterschuetz, because if it is, the government can then require its citizens what they can and cannot eat, require exercise and mandate sleep.

Unterschuetz sought direction on how the order could be enforced.

He cited that sheriffs in 40 counties have publicly stated the mask mandate will not be enforced, district attorneys in two counties have stated they will not prosecute the order, sheriffs in five counties have publicly stated the mandate will be enforced and 16 counties have not made any statement. Rusk County is one such county that has not made a statement.

Unterschuetz believes residents of Rusk County should know where the county stands.

Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Wallace said that at this time he was aware of two mask complaints and those were forwarded to the Rusk County Public Health Department. Wallace said he’s had several conversations with the county’s corporate council and was unable to create a cohesive statement.

Wallace related the mask mandate to traveling 60 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone. Generally, no one will get a ticket. 

Corporate Counsel Rich Summerfield said, “the sheriff has control over the sheriff’s department,” and added he didn’t believe a statement at this time would be appropriate. According to Summerfield, the sheriff’s office publicly stating the mandate will not be enforced wouldn’t be appropriate when there is a probability that it could be enforced by another law enforcement agency, like the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Board supervisor Tony Hauser said, “You don’t have to make a statement at all.”

Board supervisors Lisa Dobrowloski and Terry DuSell took a pro-personal responsibility stance and hoped individuals would be left to make their own choice regarding wearing or not wearing a mask.

Board chairman Dave Willingham said while it is his duty to support the constitution, determining if something is constitutional or unconstitutional does not fall within the assigned duties of the county board. “The United States Constitution already has a remedy in place to determine that,” said Willingham. He added that the county board does not have the authority to decide whether or not to enforce the mandate.

County Administrator Andy Albarado said the responsibility and decision of enforcing the mandate falls to the sheriff or the district attorney. According to Albarado, there are a handful of counties, such as Barron, working on an ordinance to allow their public health departments to enforce the mask mandate and other COVID-19 related mandates. This action, said Albarado, goes back to the stay at home order that was over ruled earlier this year; that type of action would need to be carried out at the local, not state, level.

County Supervisor Jim Meyer asked where the Rusk County department heads stand on the mask mandate. Albarado said that while there are a lot of exemptions, for the most part there is a general consensus of common sense. Social distancing is applied as much as possible. At this time there have been no complaints regarding mask wearing in the Government Center.

Unterschuetz expressed concern saying, “If the government can mandate unwanted masks, it can also mandate unwanted vaccines.” 

Summerfield said, “vaccines are not germane to the mask order.”

Dobrowolski also expressed concern of many of the incidents related to COVID-19 and said, “requiring masks is a starting point of losing our rights and it would be wise to be on guard because the government may be willing to ask for more.” Dobrowolski compared the COVID-19 reactions to the Wild West with many government officials making things up as they go along. 

At this time the mandatory mask mandate expires Sept. 28.

Supervisors also discussed adopting a resolution to submit a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) on behalf of the city of Ladysmith to redevelop the former Ladysmith Elementary School on Lindoo Avenue into a community center and housing development. 

A CDBG can be used by municipalities to make improvements to sewer and water projects, roads, infrastructure and other categories of public improvements and provides a 50-50 match of grant funds. Rusk County has not made use of a CDBG grant in many years. The grant funds come from both the state and federal levels, according to Albarado.

The CDBG guidelines require municipalities to only have one active application in the system at any given time. Albarado said the city is seeking some reassurance that the county would be willing to sponsor the grant on their behalf.

Sponsoring the CDBG for the City of Ladysmith would be at no cost or liability to the county and there would be no manpower required on the part of the county, according to Albarado. The grant could be applied to both the housing development and infrastructure portions of the projects.

Summerfield said sponsoring the grant on behalf of the city would not affect the county’s ability to borrow in the future. 

DuSell questioned whether there would be legal ramifications to doing this. Summerfield said if accepted, the county would have to adopt a resolution waiving all liability and costs.

Additionally the county would have the option of not accepting the grant funds. The county would also have the ability to decide to submit an application on their own behalf instead of submitting one for the city.

The deadline for submitting the application would be at the beginning of 2021. Supervisors did not adopt the resolution during the meeting, but will reconsider it closer to the new year.

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