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Story County Board of Supervisors sends mask mandate back to Board of Health to remove penalty

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of a name. 

The Story County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, 2-1, to request removal of the penalties from its mask mandate until given authority by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The mask mandate will return to the Board of Health which will vote on the request to remove the penalties. Story County is the latest of local municipalities grappling with mitigating the coronavirus spread and the potential legal repercussions of going against Reynolds' emergency proclamation. 

The one dissenting vote, Supervisor Lauris Olson, said she isn't afraid of a lawsuit. 

"I can't find any reason to put a cost on a human life," Olson said. "Sometimes being an elected official is putting taxpayer money where your beliefs are."

The proclamation initially included a simple misdemeanor charge and a fine ranging from $65 to $625, depending on previous violations, if any. Reynolds said in the past local municipalities do not have the legal authority to require masks. 

The supervisors' request will include language that a penalty will be added once Reynolds gives the authority to do so.

Muscatine was the first to defy Reynolds' emergency declaration after passing a mask mandate in July and later removed a $500 fine. Other cities followed, including Ames, passing mask mandates with no penalty.

The board ended last week's Thursday meeting intending to seek more legal advice and advice from their insurance, Iowa Communities Assurance Pool. Assistant Story County Attorney Ethan Anderson said at Thursday's meeting their office could not represent the county if they went against the attorney's advice.

The supervisors returned with mixed conclusions. 

Olson said the ICAP policy covers wrongful acts by the council as long as they were "acting in good faith." Heddens said the Iowa State Association of Counties' general council said they believe local municipalities have "rule over their property," but there are valid arguments on both sides whether they have control outside of county buildings. 

Due to these conflicting opinions, ISAC said the board should have the support of the county attorney, Heddens said. 

"The question is legally and enforceably what can we do?" Vice-Chair Lisa Heddens said. "It has been very stressful, but I don't know that we can institute this without the backing of our attorney." 

Considering the legal advice, Chair Linda Murkin said the board should stay consistent with Ames and move forward with the mandate without teeth. 

"What is it that we want to accomplish?" Murkin said. "We want to stress the importance of wearing a face covering, not because it protects you but because you are protecting other people ... How do we so to speak engage the hearts and minds of the people of Story County to do this? I don't think it is by a penalty."

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.

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