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Unvaccinated Cannon Falls city workers will need to wear masks while on the job and submit to COVID-19 tests every two weeks starting in January.

The council opted for the mask and testing requirements in lieu of requiring all city employees to be vaccinated.

“We need to be crystal clear, this is not a mandate,” council member Matt Montgomery said.

The 5-1 vote with council member Laura Kronenberger dissenting followed a lengthy discussion at a September 27 work session where council member Bill Duncan pushed to require all city workers be vaccinated. Duncan told the council he is “passionate” about this issue.

The details of the mask requirement and testing for unvaccinated workers will be worked out later, including disciplinary steps for those not following the rules.

City Administrator Neil Jensen suggested the council wait six weeks before its discussion of the details because Minnesota OSHA is expected to reach a decision governing employers’ requirements for vaccines and masks.

Jensen said a key point will be the definition of a city employee, whether it includes firefighters and seasonal workers such as lifeguards. 

Council member Matt Montgomery questioned if there was a problem in Cannon Falls, citing a report that 84 percent of the city’s workforce was vaccinated.

“I dislike the mandate rule,” council member Steve Gesme said, adding he hoped everybody would get vaccinated without someone mandating it.

Jensen said the city has had two of the then nine people working in City Hall test positive for COVID-19. There are now six people working in City Hall after the DMV closed its station there. In addition, the city has eight people in Public Works, 57 in police and fire and 10 people in the library.

During the public comments section of the meeting, ambulance employee Erik Porten asked the council “not to infringe on the citizens’ liberties” with a vaccination requirement, saying he was “vehemently against” forcing anyone to get vaccinated.

“I’m about freedom -- freedom of choice and freedom to live your life,” he said.

His comments were challenged by Diane Johnson, the only other person to speak during public comments.

“I want the freedom of the people taking care of me to not give me COVID,” she said.

There was much talk about rights and freedom during the council discussion later in the meeting.

“In the words of my daughter, my rights end when there is a public health crisis,” Mary Jill Bringgold said.

“One person’s freedom cannot infringe on the rights of others,” Duncan said.

Public comments

Mayor John Althoff announced at the beginning of the meeting that a new procedure for public comments will start with the next council meeting. The public comment section will be moved to the beginning of the meeting. Public comments will be no longer than 30 minutes with each speaker limited to three minutes.

Speakers must sign up in advance and provide their name,address and the topic they wish to address.

“The City Council will not generally act on issues raised by the public input but may choose to schedule consideration of the item on a future agenda,” Althoff said.

Planning Commission

On a 6-0 vote, the council agreed to reduce the number of people on the Planning and Zoning Commission from seven to five.

The five members will be composed of three members of the public and two council members. An alternate will be appointed who will fill in if a commissioner is absent.

On the recommendation of Montgomery, implementation of the new commission composition will be delayed until the start of the new year. The original proposal called for it to take effect immediately after it was approved and published.

Adult businesses

The council approved the second reading and adoption of an ordinance limiting areas of Cannon Falls  where sexually oriented businesses may operate. Businesses -- such as adult bookstores -- cannot be operated within 700 feet of:

-- Properties zoned for residential use.

-- Property frequented by children, such as a day care facility, school, library, park, playground, nature center, religious institution or other public recreational facility.

The ordinance has other requirements for ownership, packaging of material and size of the building.

The ordinance was approved on a unanimous vote.

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