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Muscatine County attorney says Iowa mayor exceeded authority in issuing mask order

Christy Roby-Williams, Muscatine County public health director, discusses the public health budget with the Muscatine Co
Christy Roby-Williams, Muscatine County public health director, discusses the public health budget with the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors on Monday. The board delayed her request for an additional $135,000 in COVID-19 funding for the next quarter. Also at the board meeting, interim County Attorney James Barry said he had requested an Iowa attorney general’s opinion on the Muscatine mayor’s proclamation requiring the wearing of face masks. (David Hotle/Muscatine Journal)

MUSCATINE — Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson exceeded her authority by mandating that people wear face coverings in public, according to an opinion from interim Muscatine County Attorney James Barry.

During the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday morning, Barry said he had contacted the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on a proclamation Broderson issued requiring the use of face coverings in the city. While he had not received an answer by Monday afternoon, he issued his opinion based on several previous opinions given by the Attorney General’s Office.

According to a news release, Barry said Broderson’s mandate is not consistent with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamations and that the power to issue such a mandate has not been delegated by the governor to the city/mayor.

Barry said he is not the city attorney and cannot comment on the legal advice given to create the proclamation. His opinion deals with Muscatine County operations, specifically enforcement of violations, he said.

Reynolds has said Iowa residents should follow Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines, which do not require face coverings.

“So long as county offices remain closed to the public, I am advising Muscatine County, all elected officials and employees to abide by the governor’s proclamations regarding the pandemic and until further clarification or different directives are issued, but then so long as they are performing their official governmental functions/duties,” Barry said.

On Sunday, Broderson issued a proclamation that all people in public locations in the city were required to wear masks. According to the proclamation, believed to be the first of its kind in Iowa, masks were to be mandatory beginning at 6 a.m. Monday in public areas of the city as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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Broderson said she hoped no citations would have to be issued, but the proclamation included a municipal infraction that could carry a $500 penalty. Barry said his office would not enforce any such citations.

Broderson said there are exceptions to the proclamation. People can be exempted if wearing a mask interferes with their job, creates a workplace hazard or unsafe environment or makes a medical condition worse for the wearer. She said most people would be able to just explain that they have a justified reason for not wearing a mask if questioned.

The mayor said Muscatine is only just now reopening and counts on businesses for its survival. With a dramatic upswing in the number of COVID-19 cases in nearby counties — including Scott and Johnson — she said she hoped to stop an upswing in cases in Muscatine that could force a second closure of businesses.

The mayor’s news conference on the front steps of City Hall was cut short by about 50 people protesting her speech.

On Monday, the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors delayed for a second time voting on whether to approve special funding to the Muscatine County Public Health Department to continue COVID-19 mitigation efforts, saying more information was required before the decision can be made.

No date was set for a second work session regarding the department’s request for an additional $135,000 for the next quarter.

As of Monday morning, Muscatine County had 691 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 50 active, an increase of 17 since Friday, according to Christy Roby-Williams, county public health director. Four people are hospitalized. She said there is a link between the increase in cases and adults at ball fields or bars. There have been 44 fatalities from the virus in Muscatine County.

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