At its October 13, 2020 meeting, the Branson Board of Aldermen (Board) took action that extends its mandatory face covering ordinance, Ordinance 2020-0072 (Covid-19 Ordinance), indefinitely. Before this “indefinite extension,” mandatory masking was approved on an approximately month to month basis, with it ending at a specific time and date unless extended by the Board. Final approval was through a double reading with aldermen Jeff Seay, Bob Simmons, Bill Skains, Jamie Whiteis, and Julia King voting “Yes” and alderman Larry Milton voting “No” on the initial reading and not voting on the second reading.
Alderman questions mayor cutting off face covering public discussion
During a telephone interview on October 14, 2020, alderman Milton said, “The mayor arbitrarily cut off comments from the public and would not let the alderman comment on the ordinance for the proposed second reading as required by city code. Just because the mayor does not like what people have to say does not give him the power to deny them their right to be heard. I did not want to be part of this injustice.”
Section 2-71 of the Branson Municipal Code is entitled “Procedures for regular Agenda.” The Covid-19 Ordinance was one of the items on the Regular Agenda. Subsection (4) of Section 2-71 says, “Board members shall be allotted time to present their positions and concerns if they so desire.” Subsection (5) reads, “Interested members of the community shall also have an opportunity to express their positions on an item. Testimony or discussion by interested members of the community in support or opposition of an issue may be limited by the presiding officer when the discussion has become repetitive …” After interested members of the community have had an opportunity to express their comments, Subsection (6) gives Board members additional time to respond to those statements.
Face covering mandatory until further board action
Absent the action the Board took; the Covid-19 Ordinance would have been automatically repealed at 11:59 PM on October 14, 2020. The Board’s action specifically said, “That Ordinance 2020-0072…shall not be repealed at 11:59 PM on October 14, 2020.” Further, it provides the ordinance “shall remain in full force and effect from and immediately after the passage by the Board of Aldermen and approval by the Mayor of this ordinance.”
It contains no expiration or automatic repeal provision and remains in effect indefinitely. The city attorney pointed out the various ways the Board could take future actions on the ordinance should conditions change. These were standard provisions in Branson’s Municipal Code, such as at its regular scheduled meetings or a special meeting called by the Mayor or two or more aldermen. A press release from the city of Branson on October 14, 2020, said, “The passing of this ordinance means the Board of Aldermen and City Staff will continue to monitor and assess the COVID-19 situation and will bring this issue before the Board at an appropriate time in the future.
Before the vote, there was a staff report, public comments, and aldermen’s comments. The Staff Report, including comments from Mercy and Cox’s medical authorities, cited numerous statistics and data supporting the Covid-19 Ordinance. The majority of the comments from the public were not in favor of the ordinance. Although some gave data statistics supporting their position, one of the primary objections was a perceived violation of their Constitutional Rights. On more than one occasion, the audience had to be called back to order because of disrespectful behavior.
Unless excepted Face covering mandatory in all public spaces
The extension keeps in place the mandatory face covering requirements to Chapter 58 of the Branson Municipal Code. These requirements, absent one of the specified exceptions in the ordinance, require mandatory face coverings in all public spaces (Section 58-387). A “face Covering” is defined as “a particulate mask or fabric covering of the nose and mouth secured to the face with ties, loops, or elastic that is covering the nose and mouth.”
Section 58-387 of the Branson Municipal Code contains several exceptions to the mandatory face covering requirements. A significant exception is that there is no face covering required for “any person in a public place while seated and maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from other persons who are not family members or reside together.” This exception is not applicable in waiting areas and while walking to and from seating or other parts of the premises. There is also an exception for persons with health conditions documented by a medical professional that prohibits wearing a face covering.
The penalty for an individual failing to wear a face covering where required is $100.00 plus court costs. Any person who owns, manages, operates, or otherwise controls a public place where wearing face covering is required and fails to comply or require compliance includes a $100 fine plus court costs and the potential suspension or revocation of the business permit or license. (Section 58-390)
The ordinance also requires businesses open to the public to have a sign no smaller than 8.5 x 11 inches at each entrance and exit containing specific language. Signs meeting this requirement can be downloaded from the city website at http://www.bransonmo.gov/DocumentCenter/View/12769/Face-Covering-Signage and printed. Please note the red letters and white background are mandatory.
The city has a “Face Covering Ordinance FAQ” page on its website that answers various questions about its mandatory face covering requirements. Its location is https://www.bransonmo.gov/DocumentCenter/View/12768/Face-Covering-FAQ-PDF. For any other questions about this ordinance, please call the office of Branson Emergency Management at 417- 337-8584.