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Independence again rejects call for looser COVID-19 rules

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

As it did two weeks ago, the Independence City Council again decided the city will not challenge Jackson County’s pandemic recovery restrictions.

A council majority Monday voted against a resolution offered by council members Mike Huff and Mike Steinmeyer that the city, as a show of support for local businesses and organizations, urging Jackson County to remove restrictions on businesses and gatherings, except for wearing masks and social distancing. If not, the resolution stated, the city would form its own less restrictive recovery plan.

Only Brice Stewart joined Huff and Steinmeyer. Council Members John Perkins, Karen DeLuccie, Dan Hobart and Mayor Eileen Weir voted against the resolution. 

Steinmeyer and Huff proposed a similar resolution two weeks ago, though that one included a threat of litigation and did not explicitly mention masks and social distancing. No other council member supported it, though, even after removing the mention of possible litigation. Stewart had abstained, given the possible litigation, as he works for the county.

Independence’s Advisory Board of Public Health resolved at its meeting last week that it supports the county’s current measures and urges Missourians to continue being vigilant regarding masks, social distancing, washing hands and limiting social gatherings.

With the metro area’s continuing rise in cases, the board said it is worried the area medical system could get overwhelmed if that trend continues.

“Recently, reports are that the hospitals in the region are filling up while physician, nursing and medical staff are exhausted from the additional strain of managing serious Covid patients,” the board wrote.

DeLuccie questioned what Huff and Steinmeyer’s resolution does as written, saying it gave little indication what the city would do if the county doesn’t remove restrictions.

Steinmeyer said it’s a matter of the city showing its own self-rule, as the county’s recovery phase is “not well thought out.”

“This phase restricts the ability of businesses and our citizens to practice what is fundamentally theirs, to provide for one’s self and family,” he said.

Steinmeyer noted the several closed businesses in Kansas City because of pandemic restrictions and said one KC business owner had hoped Independence would “take the lead.”

“This is nothing more than saying we trust you to do the right thing,” Steinmeyer said. “We need to take control of our own economy; we’re trying to help and bring relief to our small businesses. If it’s costing jobs; it needs to be thought out.”

Huff questioned how much all of the current mandates are being enforced, noting the close lines on the Square in recent weeks of waiting absentee voters.

“You know me, I’m all about enforcement,” Huff said. “It’s not being enforced, and we need to move on.”

“Are you impressed with enforcement of the mandates,” he asked Weir, “and can you give me examples of success or failures?”

Weir replied, “I’m not going to sit here and be interrogated,” adding that she would be more than happy to have a discussion later, as she had earlier with Steinmeyer.

The mayor noted two weeks ago that trying to formulate public health precautions and recovery policies in the metro area is “extraordinarily complex” with everything that must be considered, and likely nobody thought seven months ago they’d still be under a state of emergency.

“It’s a very messy process to coordinate with all our surrounding cities and our surrounding counties and two states,” she said. “It’s not perfect, and there’s certainly things we’d rather see differently, and I hope those conversations can continue to take place. We want our businesses to survive and thrive.”