MUSCATINE, Iowa–Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson called a press conference July 5 on the city hall lawn to announce a proclamation requiring all city residents aged two and older wear face masks in public when they cannot social distance by staying at least six feet apart. The proclamation provides exemptions for people with physical or mental health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask, and those engaging in certain activities. A municipal infraction, the Muscatine Police Department may fine people not in compliance.
At the press conference, Broderson explained that she considered requiring the use of face masks a way to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and keep businesses open. Broderson also invited Trinity Muscatine Public Health Director Christy Roby Williams and Dustaff Persaud of Mercy Family Medicine Muscatine to speak.
A group of residents who opposed the mayor’s proclamation protested it on the grounds that it violated their individual rights. Eventually, the mayor elected to finish the press conference inside city hall with the media only.
Responding to questions about enforcement, Broderson said that people with legitimate exemptions would simply have to explain their situation if stopped. In unusual cases, Broderson stated a doctor’s note would provide sufficient evidence. Broderson also emphasized that she believed the police would focus on educating people rather than fining or detaining them.
Later, both the state attorney general and the Muscatine County attorney indicated that they disagreed with Broderson’s legal reasoning. The Attorney General’s office furnished the county attorney and the media with a copies of documents sent to Senator Zach Wahls in response to an inquiry about whether cities or counties could devise their own pandemic related mandates. The attorney general contended that, “while the Statewide Disaster Emergency Proclamations are in place, the Governor retains the power to delegate, sub-delegate, or retain the administrative authority under Iowa Code Chapter 28C (Emergency Management) to issue directives of this nature.” He also stated that public health and not the mayor would have the authority to issue such orders under Iowa Code Section 137.104(1)(b). The county attorney reached a similar conclusion, emphasizing the governor had offered explicit guidance on personal protective equipment usage.
July 9 at the in depth city council meeting, council member Dennis Froelich requested the council discuss the proclamation. He did not support the proclamation on the grounds the city council had insufficient time to review it and it proved unenforceable. Council member Peggy Gordon expressed similar concerns. The council voted not to spend city time, money, or personnel on the proclamation at this time.