Eureka Springs mayor extends moratorium on events, parades and festivals to Jan. 1

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The city of Eureka Springs won’t have any events, parades or festivals until the beginning of 2021.

On Monday night, Mayor Butch Berry said he was extending the moratorium on city events until the end of the year in light of rising cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Berry said he might change his mind later in the year if the number of cases goes down, but the city must be responsible in the meantime.

“I don’t see any reason we need to have a large group for parades or music in the park or drumming in the park,” Berry said. “Until it does show a good sign of going down instead of up, at this point, I’m not going to be issuing any city permits for special events.”

Also at the meeting, the council addressed ordinances mandating mask wearing in public that have been approved in Fayetteville and Rogers. The council voted on June 22 to approve a resolution encouraging the use of masks, when Berry said an ordinance would be unenforceable unless Gov. Asa Hutchinson mandates mask wearing in public and puts some teeth behind it.

Council member Bob Thomas reiterated that idea on Monday night, saying Fayetteville and Rogers don’t have the authority to mandate mask wearing. Hutchinson issued an executive order July 3 authorizing cities to adopt a model ordinance on the subject drafted by the Arkansas Municipal League.

“Then [Hutchinson] also added another couple of stipulations, so Fayetteville and Rogers … both of their ordinances refer to mandating wearing masks indoors,” Thomas said.

While Hutchinson said there are no penalties for those who choose not to wear a mask, Thomas said, the city of Fayetteville is fining business owners who allow individuals inside their business without a mask.

“The governor had said there can be no punishment, so that will be a problem for Fayetteville if somebody challenges it,” Thomas said. “I just wanted to clarify that because I’ve been taking a lot of grief … about the fact that we have not mandated that everybody in Eureka Springs wears a mask. We cannot do that.”

Council member Harry Meyer said he’d like to hear city attorney Tim Weaver’s opinion on the issue, and Weaver said he’s not sure how to enforce mask wearing in public.

“I don’t know that there’s a way with the governor’s limitations to put a lot of teeth in it,” Weaver said.

If someone enters a business not wearing a mask and refuses to leave when asked to do so, Weaver said, the business owner can call the police to report trespassing.

“That’s trespass. We already have that on our books. We can already prosecute you if you won’t leave a business when you’ve been asked not to,” Meyer said. “We’ve used that in the past, not for masks, but when people come in without their shoes or shirt on or something like that. Businesses have always had the ability to control people that come into their businesses and refuse to cooperate.”

Weaver said the city should tread lightly when it comes to mandating mask wearing.

“We don’t want to necessarily penalize the shopkeepers like Fayetteville’s ordinance, because I think we’re violating the spirit of what the governor is saying,” Weaver said.

Instead, Weaver suggested that the council pass a resolution asking Hutchinson to reconsider his stance on mask wearing. Berry said he wanted to add a few things about Hutchinson’s policy, saying businesses that wish to call the police to enforce mask wearing have the responsibility to do so.

“This isn’t up to me seeing a violation at a store and calling the police,” Berry said. “It has to be the business to call in for a complaint.”

Council member Mickey Schneider asked if the city could require businesses to put a sign on their door encouraging mask wearing and Weaver said that’s a possibility.

“We could have an ordinance that says they’re supposed to, but if they don’t do it, we have no way of enforcing it under the governor’s rules,” Weaver said. “If businesses don’t want to put up the sign, the businesses don’t necessarily have to put up the sign.”

“So … until the governor does his own personal mandate with fines, cities can’t really do anything that can be enforced?” Schneider asked.

“At this point, all we can do is strongly encourage the governor to give us more teeth,” Weaver said.

Schneider said she thought the council accomplished that goal when passing the resolution encouraging mask wearing at its last meeting. Council member Susan Harman reiterated that it’s up to the businesses to enforce mask wearing and said she requires guests at her business to wear masks until they are seated with a drink in hand.

“We have to explain all of that to them,” Harman said.

Council member Terry McClung said the situation is unfortunate.

“The citizenry wants us to do more than what we’re legally capacitated to do,” McClung said. “We’re kind of stuck. We’re limited, so what we have in place is probably as good as any.”

Schneider said most of the business owners want everyone to wear masks, something she said has changed over the past few weeks.

“We’ve had this major surge and an awful lot more are for making people wear masks,” Schneider said. “Yes, they’re afraid of losing business, but they’re also afraid of losing their lives. They’re hoping the city takes a stand.”

Council member Melissa Greene proposed that the council approve a “strong resolution to the governor asking him to do something and give us some teeth.”

“You’ll have to be very, very specific what you’re asking,” Harman said. “If you just send a resolution and you say we’d like him to mandate masks, he’s going to say, ‘I’ve already put things in place,’ ” Harman said.

Greene moved to draft the ordinance for passage at the council’s next meeting and the council unanimously agreed to do so.

The council planned to hold a special called meeting on Thursday, July 16, to consider a face mask ordinance but canceled the meeting after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a state mandate to wear face coverings in public effective Monday, July 20.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, July 27, at The Auditorium.

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