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By Cara Dempski and LeAnn Ralph
HUDSON — Amid loud opposition, along with some support, the St. Croix County communicable disease ordinance was postponed indefinitely but is now expected to be back on the agenda again for the Health and Human Services Board.
More than two dozen St. Croix County residents spoke in opposition of the communicable disease ordinance at the October 6 meeting of the St. Croix County Board.
Many of those speaking in opposition said the proposed ordinance violated their constitutional rights and referenced the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed communicable disease ordinance did not address any disease specifically.
Others speaking in opposition said they feared the proposed ordinance would allow children or family members to be removed from their homes while others said the language in the proposed ordinance was too vague.
Many of the speakers asked the St. Croix County Board to approve a motion to table the ordinance or remove it from any consideration.
The proposed communicable disease ordinance was not on the agenda for the October 6 St. Croix County Board meeting.
The county board operates under Robert’s Rules of Order, and when an item is not on the agenda, it cannot be acted upon.
The state Attorney General’s guide to the Open Meetings law advises elected boards to make their agendas as specific as possible so the general public knows what the board will be considering.
Residents from Hudson, Hammond, Woodville and Roberts spoke during public comments.
One person said he was a member of the National Guard who had returned from deployment in Afghanistan and spent 14 days in isolation after his return.
The things he missed most was having contact with other human beings, he said.
The Health and Human Services Public Health Subcommittee held a digital town hall meeting about the proposed ordinance on October 7 that lasted two and a half hours.
Panelists for the town hall included Kelli Engen, St. Croix County public health administrator, Dr. Paul McGinnis, a member of the Health and Human Services Board, and Scott Cox, St. Croix County corporation counsel.
About 80 people were online for the town hall meeting and another 80 to 100 people were in person at the St. Croix County government center.
Speakers were allowed two minutes each to make comments and to ask a question.
Many of those who spoke were in opposition to the proposed communicable disease ordinance while others spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance.
Some of those who were opposed said the proposed ordinance gave the St. Croix County health officer, as an unelected official, too much power and authority.
The language of the ordinance is taken out of state statute. State law and state administrative code define the duties, responsibilities and authority of the health officers, Cox said.
Mis-information leads the public to believe the health department wants the authority to “rip children from their homes,” but the proposed local ordinance does not give more power to the health officer than is already in state statute although it does provide a civil forfeiture mechanism, Engen said.
The proposed ordinance is not intended to take away civil liberties but is intended to protect public health, she said.
The authority to remove someone from a home is already contained in state administrative code and is not new in the proposed ordinance and is not created by the new ordinance, Cox said.
The authority already exists, but it cannot happen without a court order, he said.
The St. Croix County Health and Human Services Public Health Subcommittee voted to indefinitely postpone the proposed communicable disease ordinance at the committee’s October 14 meeting.
At a meeting of the Health and Human Services Board held October 21, the board listened to more than two hours of public comments about the proposed communicable disease ordinance.
Many of those who spoke were not in favor of the ordinance, and one person asked for “written withdrawal of any future disease ordinances.”
One man said he did not like the way authorities were reacting to the COVID-19 numbers.
St. Croix County (as of that date) had 1,565 positive COVID-19 tests but only 10 deaths, he said.
Others who spoke were in favor of the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance would provide “law and order” and would be looking out for public safety and well-being, said one woman.
Another person said she was in favor of trying to protect people during the worst health crisis in the last 100 years and that she had a petition signed by 371 people who were in favor of adopting policies to protect the public with an enforceable health ordinance.
In risk management, “you prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.
Later on in the meeting, Scottie Ard, county board supervisor and a member of the Health and Human Services Board, pointed out that the proposed ordinance had been postponed indefinitely and not tabled.
Cathy Leaf, county board supervisor, a member of the Health and Human Services Board and chair of the subcommittee, asked what the board intended to do about public health.
Bob Rohret, St. Croix County director of health and human services, said in lieu of a communicable disease ordinance, the county would have to “address the pandemic as best we can.”
One plan is to hire more contact tracers to help keep up with the escalating number of COVID-19 cases, he said.
The contact tracers will be hired as Limited Term Employees (LTEs) to relieve the over-time hours for permanent staff members, Rohret said.
The department also is streamlining the efforts at trying to track and control COVID-19 by asking people to do their own contact tracing, he said.
Rohret said he remained “very concerned” and that the department would respond “as best we can with the resources we have.”
Dr. McGinnis said it would be “incumbent upon the community” to do what community members can to help slow the spread of the disease.
Masks have been shown to be a benefit in schools, and when the public wears masks, it helps the schools and businesses stay open and helps public health, he said.
The question is, “what are citizens going to do?” Dr. McGinnis asked.
Leaf said she wanted language for a communicable disease ordinance to be on the agenda for the next meeting, and Dave Ostness, a member of the county board and chair of the Health and Human Services Board, said the proposed ordinance could be added to the next agenda.
The proposed ordinance, with revised language, should be on the agenda because St. Croix County is “in a crisis red zone,” Leaf said.
The motion at the subcommittee meeting postponed the proposed ordinance, which opens debate on the main motion on the next agenda and opens the ordinance up to being revised, Ard said.
Since two county board supervisors had asked for the communicable diseases ordinance to be on the agenda, the proposed ordinance will be on the next agenda, Ostness said.
The St. Croix County Health and Human Services Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting on November 11 at 5 p.m.
The St. Croix County Board was scheduled to meet November 3 at 8:30 a.m. The proposed communicable disease ordinance was not on the agenda, although other agenda items included a hearing for the proposed 2021 county budget and adopting the tax levy.