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County Council discusses mask mandate powers, responsibilities

County Council May 10
County executive Steve Ehlmann and Director of Administration Joann Leykam at the May 10 St. Charles County Council meeting. (Source: St. Charles County Government Livestream)

“Free the smiles!”

“Fear is the real virus.”

There were phrases on signs and T-shirts work by spectators at the St. Charles County Council meeting on Monday, May 10, as the council read a resolution regarding the enforcement of mask mandates, contact tracing, and quarantine orders in local schools. Also on the evening’s agenda for discussion was Bill No. 4964, which called to allow St. Charles County to lift existing mask mandates in its own county buildings.

The resolution regarding mask mandates was sponsored by council members Joe Cronin (District 1), and Joe Brazil (District 2), who was absent due to an illness. Cronin stated that the idea for a resolution came from multiple comments he and Brazil received about a Wentzville middle school where quarantine orders were being issued by the government.

The resolution discussed on May 10 affirms that the Constitution of Missouri gives county charters the ability to exercise legislative power pertaining to services and functions in municipalities or political subdivisions, but not school districts. 

“The long and short of it as, as a county council, we don’t have the power to tell the schools what to do,” Cronin said.

This information aligns with a document jointly released by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services regarding school opening guidelines back in Nov. 2020, where school mask mandates were not required. Instead, the decision regarding mask mandates is made at a local level by school administrators and school board officials.

St. Charles County Council has not issued any mask mandates, and under current law, has no authority to order contact tracing or quarantines within school districts. Cronin stated mask mandate orders were decisions were “reserved to the schools”, not publicly elected bodies.

Cronin did note that there is proposed legislation is in the hands of state legislators Jefferson City to change the mandate decision-making process, but the legislation is still at the embryonic stage. 

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann stated that, last summer, his office received 355 emails and over 500 telephone calls from citizens asking for or demanding a county mask mandate. He continued by noting that he had resisted this call and was proud that St. Charles County had kept the schools open despite the pandemic.

The resolution moved to a roll call vote and was passed unanimously by all council members in attendance. The vote elicited a round of applause from the audience.

“I have bragged to many people, and many people come, as you know, to St. Charles County because of our stand on this issue,” Brenda Webb said during public comments.

However, not all were pleased with the county’s position.

“We’re tired of everybody saying it’s everyone else’s fault,” Lake Saint Louis resident Lindi Williford said. “You can sit up here tonight with your fancy resolutions and your bills saying you don’t have mask mandates, quarantines, or that you don’t have control over the schools, but this does nothing for us watching you do this … Parents have had enough. Our kids are suffering while everyone else is playing the blame game.”

At the same meeting, the council also introduced Bill No. 4964, which if approved, this would end the mask mandate for county employees who worked in non-air-conditioned spaces such as mechanics, and highway laborers. This bill would not eliminate existing mask mandates for schools, libraries or other institutions outside the county council’s realm of power.

Cronin noted that the council could debate the measure, and potentially vote on the bill at the next meeting on May 24.

“The numbers have been dropping, more people have been getting vaccinated,” Cronin said. “The weather is going to be hotter in two weeks. I’m hoping the timing will be just about right.”

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