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Pandemic, face masks, school openings continue to vex County Council

On Monday, Aug. 10, the St. Charles County Council met for its first meeting since the state primary election, the previous week. The election brought no change to the board as council members Joe Brazil, Dave Hammond, and Nancy Schneider all won re-election.

Public comments on the state of the county were divided into two large groups of speakers, with the first group consisting mostly of public school teachers who argued for keeping the schools closed with learning shifting to a virtual platform, at least for the coming term. Some of the speakers also argued for a mandatory county face mask order, while another of the speakers rebuked County Executive Steve Ehlmann for not taking the opportunity to meet with the various National Education Association local officials to hear their input on the matters at hand.

In an answer to the teachers, council member Joe Cronin (District 1) echoed a theme he had brought up at the July 27 meeting, pointing out that the Missouri Constitution expressly forbids the council from usurping the authority of elected school boards. He pointed out Article 3, Section 40, Item Number 24 of the state Constitution as his authority. While he expressed sympathy for the teachers, he explained that their petition for redress of grievances must be addressed to the local school boards, not to the county council.

The other grouping consisted mainly of a teacher who was quite happy without face masks, and others who insisted that the COVID crisis was overblown and the idea of a mask mandate was an overreaction. One of the speakers stated that citizens should “…choose whether you’ll mask up or not.” A number of the speakers exceeded their allotted three minutes and one had to be gaveled to silence by council chairman Terry Hollander (District 5).

Ehlmann, in his public report to the council, expressed cautious optimism that the county has flattened the curve on the virus. He said he made his statement “based on these last 10 days.”

“Hopefully, we’re headed in the right direction,” Ehlmann said.

He mentioned that the death rate from the virus, while still unacceptably high, is showing signs of improvement. “It’s too high, but it is going down,” he stated. Likewise, the rate of hospitalizations has declined by 24% over the last 14 days (as of Aug. 10), versus the rate for the previous 14 days.

Ehlmann then took up the issue of a mask mandate, once again. He pointed out the non-enforceability factor of such a mandate, and using a New York Times study, noted that certain ZIP codes in St. Louis City, which does have a mask mandate, had a 25% or less compliance rate.

Ehlmann noted that a mandate does not necessarily guarantee that people are “masking up.” He insisted that under his leadership, “we’re not going to force them to do anything, but by educating people, we’ll continue to do that and hope for people to do the right thing.” He reiterated that educating people is the best method, and said he hopes to be able “to convince them that this is good for them, and for everybody else.”

The council will meet for a work session, closed to the public on Monday, Aug. 24. The next general council meeting will be in three weeks, at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31.

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