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Minocqua businesses provide input on Evers extension

Ross: ‘I don’t want to see us have to shut down again’

April 28, 2020 by Brian Jopek

The Minocqua Town Board, as reported in the April 24 edition of The Lakeland Times, approved a resolution urging Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers to reconsider the extension of the current emergency order put in place in mid-March. 

That order was to expire Friday, April 24, but days before Evers issued an extension of the order, known as “Safer At Home,” until May 26. 

That action by the governor has drawn fire, some of it heard by town board members and business owners alike at a special Minocqua Town Board meeting on April 22.

Others, like Ross Sportswear owner Bill Ross, want to make sure things are in place in the event something like this happens again.  

“Now, therefore, be it resolved,” the resolution sent to Evers by the town of Minocqua reads, “that the Town of Minocqua strongly urges Governor Evers to reconsider the extension of the Emergency Order and allow regions and/or counties to re-open as they meet the Badger Bounce Back criteria. Failing to do so will have catastrophic local economic, social and health care consequences for not only Minocqua but the entire northern region for years to come.”

Oneida County health director Linda Conlon attended a portion of the April 22 special meeting of the Minocqua town board by phone. 

With the uncertainties and unknowns, she said, it was difficult for the health department to identify exactly how it will proceed in light of the “Safer At Home” extension.

However, Conlon also seemed cautiously optimistic.  

“I think there will be some more openings coming in the near future,” she said. “And with that, basically as a whole, public health recommends a strategic reopening to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Soft openings needed

More openings is something many business owners in the Minocqua and Lakeland area are wanting to see as more and more, the fact that “big box” stores like Wal-Mart, Menards and grocery stores are allowed to stay open while smaller “mom and pop” type operations remain, for the most part, closed is something not sitting well at all. 

The “Bounce back” criteria mentioned in the resolution the town sent to Evers is a reference to the plan he announced on April 20 which outlines a plan, over time, to get Wisconsin “opened up” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The town board eventually unanimously approved the resolution — supervisor John Thompson saying “this whole thing is based on southeast Wisconsin” and supervisor Bill Stengl saying a plan is needed “and I mean, yesterday” to get local businesses opened up “with prudent, responsible precautions in place.”

Town chairman Mark Hartzheim presented the results of a poll of downtown businesses hastily conducted in the days before the April 22 meeting. 

He said there were three scenarios presented to the businesses taking the survey — business owners who felt no extension of the Evers order was necessary (31.4%), a shorter extension (40% in favor) and those against the May 26 extension (29%).

“It’s interesting to not the division of opinion,” Hartzheim said of the 35 businesses which responded to the survey. “There’s a lot of people who chose all three options, so I think we need to be respectful and there is different thinking out there. Not everybody falls down one line on this and it doesn’t have to be political.”

Eventual approval of the resolution didn’t happen before members of the business community present at the meeting in the community center gymnasium had an opportunity to speak. 

Judy Domaszek, co-owner of the Wildwood Wildlife Park, said she’d like to see a “soft opening by May 11 and work these things out.”

She said as she left for the meeting, she spoke to a man with a vehicle who had Florida license plates. 

“So, they’re here,” Domaszek said of people who’ve come up from the southern United States for the summer. “People don’t realize how this (COVID-19 and emergency order) is effecting everything. We can’t even get specialty feeds because the feed mills don’t have the feed in there ... the manufacturer shut down. It effects so much more than the local area that we don’t realize.”

Domaszek said she felt things like sneeze guards were something the zoo could do along with reminding people about social distancing if it meant taking those precautions would get the wildlife park open for the season. 

“We need to get open,” she said, adding the whatever field trips different schools do this time of year has been lost with the May 26 extension and the early end of the school year.

“We’ve already lost that part of our business,” Domaszek said. “So, we don’t have anything to keep us going and pay utility bills because of that. If we could get open sooner, it’ll help us. It’ll kill us (if the opening is) after Memorial weekend because we don’t have those days. We can’t make those days up.”

She was critical of Evers, saying he didn’t evaluate statistics in the wake of the original emergency order and “decide what we’re going to do with a plan.”

“He already submitted the other (extension) and that is not legally, the right channels to go through.”

“We have to stand up for our rights up here in the Northwoods and we have to look at, I would say, a soft opening on May 10,” Domaszek said. 

Law enforcement angle

Minocqua police chief Dave Jaeger was asked if his officers would cite those businesses who reopened in violation of the extension of the emergency order. 

“You want me to answer as the chief or as a person?” he asked. “Personally, I agree with every single one of you. I feel horrible. As a police officer, I took an oath to uphold the law, the Constitution for one, the laws of Wisconsin and the ordinances of Minocqua.”

Jaeger said he was in agreement with the statement made by Wisconsin Senator Tom Tiffany about the extension not being legal past May 10.

“But that will be determined by the courts,” he said of the lawsuit filed by Republican members of the Wisconsin legislature in the days after the extension was issued. “I have to go by what the courts say.”

Compliance needed

Ross asked Hartzheim if it was the town government’s responsibility to keep the area safe. 

“If that means acting out on behalf of Evers’ order, we should be making sure businesses are in compliance,” he said. “Instead of looking the other way. That’s wrong. We should be looking down the road.”

Earlier, Thompson had said people should just stay home if they’re scared of COVID-19, something Ross said he took “deference” to.

“Well, people should be fearful,” Ross said. “It’s the ones that aren’t fearful, like Mr. Thompson, that makes this thing dangerous because they’re out there because they’re not fearful.”

He said there needed to be thought put into what the town was going to do when the “floodgates open and theses tourists come up” and COVID-19 gets here. 

“Which it will,” Ross said. “How are we gonna handle that? Are we prepared? Businesses are gonna start to reopen. We have to be able to enforce compliance because that’s why there’s laws regarding everything. Because people just don’t abide. They do their own thing.”

He suggested formation of a compliance committee that would “go around and snoop” to determine what people and businesses weren’t in compliance.

“We have to keep everyone safe and unless we’re willing to do that, we’re gonna have a big problem on our hands. This is a wildfire that’s slowing down for the moment, but it’s smoldering and believe me, it’s gonna kick up and it’s gonna start burning again and if we can’t stop it, there’s gonna be a lot of us business people that aren’t gonna survive it.”

In response, Thompson said with all the hands touching different items, “we should be a cess pool.”

“But we’re not,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s right that I can’t go into your store, and it’s obvious it’s your choice if you’d open up even when it’s lifted, but I don’t think it’s right I can’t go buy a nice shirt for something. I can’t go into, as it stands right now and you said ‘Forget it, I’m opening up’ ... it’s just not right.”

“But if there was compliance,” Ross said. “Where I could allow 10 people in my store.”

“Sure, yeah, and you can set those rules,” Thompson said. “Right now, you can’t do anything.”

“I’m not talking right now,” Ross responded. “I’m talking ahead. I’m being proactive. Once this order’s lifted, I don’t want to see us have to shut down again.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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