An ordinance that would require facemasks in Ashland will be one of two ordinances considered by Ashland City Council members Tuesday.
The ordinance has been debated in meetings going back to May, but questions about such an ordinance’s legality have kept council members from voting on a facemask mandate like that enacted by Bayfield and other cities across the state.
“Our local municipalities are in a difficult position with enforcing any mask requirements or other Covid-19 related restrictions,” said attorney Max Lindsey in a letter to the council. Lindsey is a member of the Ashland law firm Anich, Wickman and Lindsey, and was acting on behalf of city attorney Tyler Wickman.
Lindsey said only municipalities that had a local health department could take advantage of “pretty vast authority” for regulating activities in light of a public health crisis.
“It is uncertain whether the city of Bayfield ordinance will stand up to any legal challenge as there have not been any local ordinances that have been upheld by any higher courts in Wisconsin,” he said
Still, Lindsey said the city could take adopt some measures, including a resolution urging the county health department to issue a mandatory mask order and any other restrictions that would be beneficial to the city.
A second proposed ordinance before the council calls for city enforcement of orders made by public health officers, and calls for fines of from $200 to $500 for each violation.
Lindsey said in his conversations with police, he has been told that there are other ways to keep people safe even without a mask ordinance.
“Private businesses can, and many have, require customers to wear a mask upon entry,” he said. “If a customer refuses to wear a mask, the business generally has the right to refuse service to that customer and ask them to leave. If the customer refuses to leave, law enforcement would be able to issue trespassing citations and if any argument ensued, it would be possible to issue disorderly conduct citations.”
Council President Kevin Haas said many council members would like to adopt a local mask mandate.
“I think most of the council is in favor of this. It’s just not wanting to be sued that is a big thing,” he said.
Haas said he favored the measure as well, but had questions about enforcement.
“We can’t have the police running around telling people to put on masks or citing people for not wearing them, taking them away from their other duties,” he said.
Council Member Matt MacKenzie said he believed the moral force of a mandatory facemask ordinance would carry a lot of weight.
“Most reasonable people are going to comply with it. I don’t think we have to threaten people with jail or anything foolish like that,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting the information out there and asking for voluntary compliance. People are going to do what is right.”