COVID-19 oversight and review plan rejected

by Emmitt Feldner
for The Beacon

SHEBOYGAN — As recommended by the Executive Committee, the County Board Tuesday unanimously killed an update to the disease control ordinance — but it wasn’t a quiet death.

Opponents and proponents of the ordinance revisions, both inside and outside the courthouse, had their say on the controversial proposal before the board voted unanimously to file it with the clerk.

Between 100 and 200 protestors gathered in front of the courthouse for a rally, sponsored by the group Sheboygan County for Freedoms, opposing the ordinance before and during the board session.

Several representatives of the group were among eight speakers who urged the board to file the ordinance during the public addresses segment of the agenda.

There were two speakers in favor of the ordinance and one supervisor, Brian Hoffman, who spoke in favor of the ordinance.

County Administrator Adam Payne, who was the object of a no-confidence petition being circulated at the rally, continued to stress that the county was “striving to be transparent about our emergency planning” with the ordinance while increasing oversight and reducing possible penalties.

But a number of the speakers didn’t see it that way.

“Ordinance 3 is a draconian measure,” Michael Jones of Waldo, with an American flag draped around his shoulders, told the board.

“You’re giving away our rights by even thinking about passing this,” James Goldbeck of Sheboygan stated.

“How can we trust this power will not be abused, even with oversight from the County Board,” Patrick Johnson of Kohler asked.

Other speakers termed the proposal “dangerous,” “ridiculous” and “a bad idea.”

Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Joe Sheehan told board members that his organization “supports you.”

He read a resolution of support adopted by the public/private partnership for economic development. The SCEDC, he added, has faith in the county’s efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic — not blind faith, Sheehan stressed, but earned faith.

Plymouth resident Sue Kaiser asked the board to consider adopting the ordinance, urging them to “Vote tonight like a parent. You’re supposed to keep your children safe. I’m afraid for the lack of caring for others and common sense I see in our community.”

Payne decried the misinformation that spread about the proposed ordinance, including reports that it would allow mandated vaccinations and that it was intended to be acted on by the board immediately following its introduction last month.

“Now it is serving as a lightning rod for people’s angst and uncertainty,” Payne said of the proposal.

In addition to transparency about emergency planning, Payne said the ordinance also intended to include oversight by the board and checks and balances not required under state law, as well as “enforcement and penalty provisions … less onerous … than what are currently in state law.

“We don’t want to act after (our hospitals) have been overwhelmed,” he continued.

Payne stressed that the county’s public health officer has yet to issue a single health order to date during the pandemic. The defeated ordinance would have required approval of two board committees and the full board before any such order could be issued, which is not in state law, he added.

“The people involved in this ordinance care about our community. Now is not the time to let our guard down. All of us should be coming together with the common goal of defeating COVID-19,” Payne concluded.

Hoffman, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee which originally introduced the ordinance, asked why it was being “scrapped.”

“This was well crafted to take away no one’s rights,” Hoffman said of the ordinance.

“No way in hell would I take away anyone’s rights. It was written only to be used in a real COVID emergency. This is a serious disease. It won’t go away on its own.”

Hoffman also decried what he termed “personal attacks” on Payne and county Public Health Officer Starrlene Grossman, saying their intentions were good.

“Don’t make your case personal,” he told opponents of the ordinance. “You don’t accomplish a whole lot by threats.”

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