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City Beat: Springfield extends masking mandate

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Springfield City Council voted unanimously Dec. 14 to extend the masking requirement inside city limits until April 9. The current order was set to expire Jan. 9.

The extended mandate means face coverings must continue to be worn inside businesses and at public spaces, including social clubs and sporting events. Violations could result in a fine of up to $100. In addition, business owners who do not comply with the face covering requirements in their establishments may face suspension or revocation of their business license, according to the new ordinance. The order first was enacted in July.

At the meeting, Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard cited the importance of using a mask in the fight against the coronavirus.

“We are certainly in the homestretch, the last leg of the race; we need to finish strong as our hospitals truly do depend on measures like this,” he said.

Council members Jan Fisk and Matthew Simpson spoke in support of the extension.

“We hear a lot of opinions about the effectiveness of masking, the effectiveness of distancing and the other mitigation steps, but these are empirical questions where we can answer them through evidence,” Simpson said. “The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that they do work in mitigating the spread.”

Both Simpson and Fisk pointed to the Mercy Hospital Springfield nurses first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14, as a glimmer of hope.

“We are so close to ending this pandemic, yet we cannot slow down for one minute and throw away our masks,” Fisk said.

Two members of the public spoke in opposition of the extension.

Council approved the mandate 8-0, with Phyllis Ferguson recusing herself from the vote. She also abstained from voting on the mandate this summer and fall, due to her role in the restaurant industry that must enforce the mandate. Ferguson serves as chief operating officer for Mexican Villa.

“Due to a real or perceived conflict of interest regarding my financial interest, I am recusing myself from this vote,” Ferguson said.

The vote came after the governing board was urged to extend the mandate by leaders at Mercy and CoxHealth at a Dec. 8 council luncheon. At the meeting, Mercy Hospital Springfield President and Chief Operating Officer Brent Hubbard said the pandemic is continuing to grow in numbers in the Ozarks. CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards said the health system has had over 2,000 admissions from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the Health Department’s COVID-19 recovery dashboard, there have been 247 coronavirus-related deaths and 18,179 cases in Greene County as of Dec. 15. There has been a 5% increase in reported cases between Dec. 7 and 14.

CDBG funds
Council also unanimously voted to accept Community Development Block Grant funds in the amount of $1.1 million.

Brendan Griesemer, Springfield’s assistant director of planning and development, said funding will be divvied out in near thirds: 36% toward economic development and business assistance, 30% toward public services and homelessness, and 34% toward affordable housing assistance.

Prior to the vote, councilperson Simpson made a motion to amend the bill to allow the money given to small businesses to be grants instead of forgivable loans. Council voted unanimously to accept the motion.

Multiple small-business owners came out in support of receiving the additional funds.

“We received the CARES Act funding this year in the months of July and August. And if we would not have received that funding, we would not have survived,” said Kacey Jennings, co-owner of TommyHawks Axe House.

Other council items
• Council approved a $44 million affordable housing redevelopment plan by Keystone Family Homes LP despite staff only recommending three of nine properties to be blighted. Council found these properties to be blighted: Cedarbrook, Glenwood, Villa Marie, Dogwood and Bolivar Road apartments, and complexes on East High Street, North Delaware Avenue, South Weaver Avenue and West Sunshine Street. Keystone Family Homes plans to rehabilitate 297 units through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program.

• Council voted 8-1 to open up a contested development in Galloway Village to a public vote. The decision stems from a referendum petition turned into the city clerk’s office Oct. 9 that asked council to repeal its rezoning of roughly 4 acres at 3535 S. Lone Pine Ave. Developer Mitch Jenkins of Elevation Development Co. wants to use the land to build retail, office and restaurant space along with multifamily buildings. At the Dec. 14 meeting, council voted 7-2 not to repeal the rezoning decision. According to city rules, the matter now goes to public vote, scheduled for the August 2021 ballot.

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