Independence presses for clarity on COVID rules

By Mike Genet

While the city of Independence awaits clarification with some of the new pandemic precaution guidelines from Jackson County, Mayor Eileen Weir said the city will continue with enforcement of many guidelines as it has.

Starting Friday, public gatherings will be limited to 10 people or 50 percent capacity, and restaurants and bars are limited to 50 percent capacity and must close by 10 p.m., with masks and social distancing in place. Individual parties in a restaurant or bar will be limited to eight people.

The 10-person gathering limit does not apply to governmental and judicial functions, health-care facilities, private business or retail operations, religious and faith-based activities, weddings and funerals.

Weir said city staff and police won’t be handling one of the new guidelines – the 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants.

“We’re not going to take on the enforcement of curfew; we don’t have the capacity to do that,” the mayor said. “We’ll communicate with the county that we’ll leave that up to the Sheriff’s Department.”

“If there’s a complaint regarding a business where employees are not wearing masks or business is refusing to enforce that, we’ll continue to enforce that with staff,” Weir said. “The police don’t enforce the health code. We have a system in place to do that through the Regulated Service Division.”

Monday, a majority of the City Council voted down the latest resolution from Council Members Mike Huff and Mike Steinmeyer, which asked for the council to oppose new restrictions from the county, as a show of support for local businesses already being squeezed.

The council had voted down previous resolutions that would have called for the county to remove its restrictions.

“For us to blindly say we will not follow future orders is irresponsible,” Council Member Karen DeLuccie said before the vote.

“This is a show of solidarity with our businesses who have suffered,” Steinmeyer said. “We have a right to ask the county Health Department what this pandemic is doing to our businesses. If the county is inching backwards (with more restrictions), we need a seat at the table.”

Council Members Dan Hobart and John Perkins said there was nothing in the resolution about gaining such a position.

“Everybody in this town has a right to opinion, but this ensures we’ll never get a seat at the table,” Hobart said. “This is not the way to get the respect we’re after.”

Weir said that she understands the intention to show support for local businesses, but the county essentially has ignored the possible threats through resolution, though she’ll keep trying to talk.

“Our attempt to get the county’s attention has not worked; they have not altered their communication,” she said. “What I’m hearing from our business owners is no matter what rules say, it comes down to consumer confidence. The consumer is becoming less confident, and certainly what we’re doing is trying to encourage” confidence.

Among the unanswered questions Weir said the city has brought up with the county: 

• How exactly the 10-person gathering limit works with private dwellings.

• How the 10 p.m. curfew works with food delivery.

• If masks are required while actually exercising in a gym.

Weir said masks are required for people actively exercising or using exercise machines at city facilities such as the Sermon Center.