HUDSON -- The council opened up its options for future COVID-19 measures by rescinding a September 2020 decision that denied establishing an emergency order and putting citywide preventions in place.

The move does not adopt any measures, but clears the deck, City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick said. The previous decision blocked the council from any future action on the topic, and rescinding it now allows members to act if the council so chooses.

“It just neutralizes the topic,” Munkittrick said.

Council member Paul Deziel requested the action after the state mask mandate was first revoked and then reinstituted. As a public official, he said, he felt uncomfortable with the situation.

“Really the intent of what I’m trying to do tonight is put us in a better position where we’re not hamstrung by the Sept. 8 vote we took on masks,” he said.

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Though St. Croix County’s COVID-19 case numbers are getting better, Deziel said residents are not out of the woods yet. With vaccines rolling out, he said summer will hopefully look different.

“At some point we won’t need a backup or an emergency order for this type of stuff,” he said. “But we’re just not there yet.”

Council member Jim Webber said he approved of the direction, and feels they are being held politically captive by the Legislature and governor.

“I don’t know who’s really interested, who really cares about us, but we should,” Webber said.

Council member Bill Alms said without health experts on staff, he didn’t think the city should have a mask mandate.

“If we were to consider a mask mandate in the future, I always look to staff to advise and recommend,” he said.

The motion was approved, with Alms voting no.

Public comment structure

The council also discussed how to handle the structure of public comments at future meetings.

Until recently, the council had been allowing open public comment on agenda items, in addition to the assigned citizen comments portion on the agenda, something City Administrator Aaron Reeves said he’d never seen before.

Doing so provides some legal concerns, according to the League of Municipalities, as it essentially creates an open public forum where anyone can talk unrestrained on any topic, Reeves said.

He suggested keeping public comment to a designated portion of the meeting. If an agenda topic seems to be something that staff, mayor or council feel warrants more public comment, the city can schedule a public hearing either at the next meeting or in a special meeting.

This way, the public hearing will be noticed and all citizens will know they have a chance to express their thoughts, not just those who happen to attend the meeting, Reeves said.

Munkitrrick said she agreed with the public hearing process, as it gives the city more control over its meeting. In the past, lengthy public comment has led the city to postpone other agenda items.

“You do have business on the agenda that you really do need to get done,” she said.

The city should encourage citizens to contact their elected officials beforehand, and they can then bring that forward into their discussion, she said. This path is a way of controlling the agenda and treating everyone fairly.

Webber expressed concern at not allowing at least some public discussion on agenda items, as that would be an indicator as to whether a public hearing is needed.

The intent of the suggested structure is not to limit public input, Reeves said, but to set controls and a process to ensure the council can have a full discussion that’s not directed by noncouncil members.