MOUNTAIN IRON — The Mountain Iron City Council has unanimously passed a resolution to limit city-sponsored public gatherings this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution initiated much discussion during Monday night’s council meeting held via Zoom video conferencing.
“It’s not against the law to get together,” said Councilor Julie Buria, adding that “going against the freedom to assemble” could lead to “opening a Pandora’s box” for the city.
City attorney Bryan Lindsay, who helped write the resolution, clarified that it does not “create a law,” but rather a policy aimed to address matters “from the front end rather than the back end.”
In other words, he said, the city, based on the policy, would withhold permission for city-sponsored events, such as a parade, in the first place.
Councilor Steve Skogman said he took part in a League of Minnesota Cities webinar on May 14, and based on information presented he suggested the city adopt a resolution to limit city-sponsored public gatherings.
“The resolution only pertains to public property,” not gatherings held on private property, he said.
Buria questioned the need for a resolution since events planned at the Mountain Iron Community Center have already been cancelled through October.
Councilor Joe Prebeg Jr., also questioned whether the resolution would turn into “a controversial thing” with legal ramifications.
Lindsay said adopting the resolution would simply be “a moratorium on large-scale events,” and not affect, for instance, the opening of the city’s beaches or campground “when they are able to open” based on orders by Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz.
Waltz on Wednesday announced limited openings of a number of sectors of the economy, including public and private campgrounds, beginning June 1.
“This is to promote health and welfare” of Mountain Iron residents, Lindsay said of the resolution.
Mayor Gary Skalko, whose term is up this year, said he and councilors have “worked very hard” to better the city during his 18-year mayorship, and “I don’t want to be remembered for a COVID-19 virus (outbreak) that occurred” during a city-sponsored event or Mountain Iron celebration, such as Merritt Days, he said.
Skalko noted that many large summer regional events have already been cancelled due to the pandemic, such as Virginia’s Land of the Loon Festival, Ely’s Blueberry Art Festival, Hibbing’s Mines & Pines art and music festival, and Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon.
Buria said that if the two-page resolution’s summary is that “all city events are cancelled for the summer … I can agree with that.”
“If things change nationally, we can always change this resolution,” Skogman said, regarding the coronavirus crisis.
“We are looking out for our citizens and city,” not trying to “prevent people from gathering,” he said.
Skogman added that it could be many months “before we are out of the woods” with COVID-19, and the city should prepare to take further actions if necessary.
In other business, the council:
• Approved a pay request of $107,169 to Insituform Technologies USA, which includes a 5% retainage fee until final inspection is completed, for the 2019 downtown sanitary sewer improvement project.
The project, which received a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant, is “for the most part completed,” said Director of Public Works Tim Satrang.
• Approved an interconnection agreement for the proposed solar farm. The agreement spells out specifications for connections to the city’s utilities distribution system.
• Donated $150 from the city’s charitable gambling fund to the Steve Norvitch 5K Virtual Run set for Saturday. Norvitch, who was a Mountain Iron firefighter for more than 22 years and served as assistant fire chief for 19 of those years, was diagnosed last year with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The event was adjusted to a virtual run due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants are asked to donate a $35 registration fee, which includes a T-shirt, and “start and end when and where you want.” To donate, call Carol Haasl at (218) 750-7171, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or register at rangerunners.org.
• Satrang said the city’s large trash pickup, typically held in early-June, will be postponed to the second and third week of September.
• Skalko also noted that city election filings for a two-year mayoral term and two, four-year council terms, are open through 5 p.m. June 2. Those interested can contact city hall for a mail-in application.