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Minocqua Town Board sends a message to Tony Evers

Resolution approved Wednesday urges a more regional consideration in response to COVID-19

April 24, 2020 by Brian Jopek

At the end of a nearly two-hour discussion Wednesday morning, the Minocqua Town Board adopted a draft resolution that, once finalized, will be sent to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. 

Evers had issued his original “Safer At Home” order last month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That order, in addition to highlighting things people can do to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as practicing social distancing, washing hands and staying at home as much as possible, also resulted in the closing of many businesses determined to be “non-essential.”

In the meantime, there are other businesses, such as grocery stores, hardware stores and “big box” stores such as Wal-Mart, allowed to remain open. 

That ability for those business establishments to remain open while many others are shuttered during the “lockdown” has become an issue with many in the Lakeland area and it was a topic during the meeting. 

“I guess you have to ask the question how can thousands of people be in Trig’s, Savemore, Wal-Mart and not have one (customer) at a time using proper precautions in our retail and other service stores,” town chairman Mark Hartzheim said. 

On April 16, Evers issued an extension to the order that at the moment, is set to expire May 26. 

At the state level, Republican members of the Wisconsin legislature have filed suit, disputing the legality of the Evers action. 

Wednesday’s meeting in Minocqua had originally been planned to take just a few minutes so the town board, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, could formally act on moving the annual meeting date. 

The town board did vote before adjournment Wednesday to move the annual meeting date to Thursday, May 21 at 6 p.m.

However, Hartzheim said in his opening remarks at the beginning of the “Safer at Home” extension discussion, town supervisor Bill Stengl had approached him about having the matter put on the agenda for Wednesday’s special meeting. 

The meeting was held in the gymnasium of the Minocqua community center, with chairs on the gym’s basketball court spaced out appropriately to allow for social distancing as prescribed by the original Evers “Safer At Home” order, Hartzheim telling the audience of nearly 50 people, severeral of them Minocqua area business owners, every chair and table surface had been sanitized prior to the meeting.

Some of those business owners were given the opportunity to provide their input on the subject. 

“I think a lot of people were maybe expecting some kind of extension,” Hartzheim said. “But I think the length of that extension was surprising to many people and a lot of people had questions about the justification for that. The ramifications for local business is very severe.”

As of April 22, Oneida and Vilas counties reported 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, most of those patients listed either as recovered or recovering in isolation.  

Oneida County health director Linda Conlon attended a portion of the meeting by phone, and said with the uncertainties and unknowns, it was difficult for the health department to identify exactly how it will proceed in light of the “Safer At Home” extension.

However, she also seemed cautiously optimistic.  

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

That COVID-19 would be in the Northwoods at some point on broader scale was something everyone acknowledged.

Stengl, as part of his opening remarks, made the observation the original goal was to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus and not eradicate it. 

“It’s not ‘if’ it’s ‘when,’” town supervisor John Thompson said. “I think the people that say ‘No, no we gotta stop until the end of May — we can’t do anything,’ you’re fooling yourself. The vulnerability and personal responsibility ... you know what? If you’re scared, stay home. But right now, we’re backwards.”  

He said the restaurants and bars in the area that end up going out of business due to the shutdown won’t open again. 

“Now, if you want to keep your business closed, that’s my definition of personal responsibility,” Thompson said. “But if you want to open and try and save yourself, under whatever guidelines you feel are important to the safety of your customers and your employees, then I think you should. I mean, this whole thing is based on southeast Wisconsin.”

Stengl, Thompson and Brian Fricke, attending his first meeting as a newly elected member of the town board, each said they hoped other towns in the area will follow Minocqua’s lead. 

The draft resolution passed by the town board later in the meeting was finalized, emailed and sent by U.S. Postal Service to Evers by the end of the day Wednesday. 

It will also be on the town’s website. 

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

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