Another Minnesota city paves a path to defy Walz’s shutdown orders

Another Minnesota city has added its name to the growing list of cities that are vowing to defy Gov. Tim Walz’s business shutdown orders, and their DFL state rep vowed to make sure their "voice is heard."

Eveleth

Another Minnesota city has added its name to the growing list of cities that are vowing to defy Gov. Tim Walz’s business shutdown orders, and their DFL state rep vowed to make sure their “voice is heard.”

The city of Eveleth on Tuesday evening swiftly passed without opposition a resolution similar to that which many other cities around the state have recently passed stating that they are declaring their city a “Constitutional and Business Friendly Community.” 

The resolution was put forward in response to the extension of Executive Orders issued by the governor which state that certain businesses and religious institutions must remain closed or severely curtailed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution states that the city council will oppose any executive order that “restrict[s] the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Eveleth” without due process of law. The resolution also states that the city will not devote any resources to enforcing the governor’s business shutdown orders that have financially crippled businesses across the state and have left thousands unemployed

“This resolution is a message to the residents on how we are representing them,” said Mayor Bob Vlaisavljevich, who was quoted in a local report on the vote. “I don’t think there was a level playing field. There was a communication gap and no one was ready for this. We are protecting the rights of the citizens in this community.”

Related: City of Lakefield resolves to stand against Gov. Walz’ shutdown orders

Several Minnesota cities have considered or passed resolutions to support businesses opening or declare that they will not expend resources to enforce shutdown orders. Cities that have acted in some manner include Albany, Pequot Lakes, Oak Grove, Hanover, Cokato Township, Thief River Falls, Roseau, Lakefield, Worthington, and Sauk Centre.

Not every city council that has considered a similar resolution has passed it, however. Last week Chanhassen’s mayor expressed opposition and pushed to table a proclamation put forth by council member Julia Coleman in support of businesses opening. The proclamation would have urged Gov. Walz to relax restrictions on businesses and places of worship, but Mayor Elise Ryan called the document “partisan.” The Chanhassen resolution was ultimately set aside to be revisited at a later date.

Related: Chanhassen mayor tables proclamation urging Gov. Walz to open businesses and calls it ‘partisan’

The Tuesday vote on Eveleth’s resolution came just hours after business owners from throughout the Iron Range met to discuss the impacts that shutdown orders related to COVID-19 have had on their businesses. In attendance at that meeting was State Rep. Dave Lislegard, (DFL-Aurora), according to a Mesabi Daily News report

Representatives from various area industries spoke of their troubles and what message needed to be passed on to Walz, the report said. 

“We’ve had a hard few months and I hope today we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Margie Koivunen, speaking on behalf of her bar, Eggy’s and Sue’s Penalty Box, all located in Eveleth. “We are here to share ideas on how to reopen safely.”

Rep. Lislegard responded during the meeting saying, “I am here to listen and learn so that I can make sure your voice is heard.”

Lislegard was appointed last week by House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) to a select committee of lawmakers to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Mesabi Daily News reported that the committee would help develop strategies to reopen the economy and address different areas of state, as well as explore the impact on the Greater Minnesota region that is home to the state’s mining industry. However, information from the House of Representatives website about the new committee only mentions the pandemic’s impact on the Iron Range as a “possible” area of discussion.

The select committee met for the first time on Tuesday, however, the discussion during that first meeting focused exclusively on discussion of PPE (personal protective equipment) as it relates to health care workers. There was no discussion about impacts related to business shutdowns.

On Wednesday, Gov. Walz issued updated information about the anticipated June 1 “phased” opening of bars, restaurants, salons and other personal service businesses. 

The update, however, revealed that there would be continued constraints on certain businesses and worship services, and the announcement was met with widespread pushback on social media and elsewhere during and after the update.

Part of the restrictions announced include outdoor only dining options for restaurants that wish to resume sit-down service. And that mandate came with a host of other restrictions including requiring reservations, maximum seating of four persons per table (six for families), limits of 50 customers and 6’ distancing requirements. 

Hospitality Minnesota, which represents the lodging, restaurant, resort and campground industry in Minnesota responded to the Walz announcement saying, in part:

The news today was surprising and disappointing, especially given the many conversations we’ve been having with Governor Tim Walz and the Hospitality Roundtable convened by DEED Commissioner Grove. While it’s good for those restaurants that are able to offer outdoor seating, it will leave many behind around our state who cannot host patrons in an outdoor patio setting. Many of our operators have begun to hire back their staff to use their PPP loan money and ordering products for reopening on June 1, so this is another disastrous setback for them.

As these businesses stare [into] the face financial collapse, today’s announcement further delays the incoming revenue these small businesses need to survive. If these businesses are being asked to remain closed or mostly closed, then they need the State’s help with a targeted relief package that provides the support our businesses need to navigate this financial catastrophe.

Meanwhile, the updated restrictions regarding churches and other places of worship state that they will continue to be limited to 10 persons or less, whether indoors or outdoors.

The Catholic Church of Minnesota expressed open defiance to complying with that restriction. The public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), says that their churches simply will not abide by the order come Sunday. The MCC plans to push forward by conducting mass at 33% capacity with emphasis on social distancing and sanitization.

A reporter from Alpha News reached out to Rep. Lislegard for reaction to Walz’s updates announced on Wednesday and to inquire whether he thought struggling Iron Range businesses could survive the limitations and whether the select committee would be able to act quickly or effectively enough to help those businesses, but his response was not received prior to publication.