At a special meeting of the Chatfield City Council on July 21, councilors denied the request from Western Days, Inc. to hold Western Days activities in City Park, to hold activities that require streets to be closed, and to use city services for related activities. The vote was 3-1, with John McBroom voting no and Pam Bluhm abstaining.
Events like some Saddle Club events and ATV trail ride that don’t require city involvement may still go on.
The Western Days committee had provided councilors with a COVID Preparedness Plan.
Councilor Paul Novotny said he never expected to have to make a decision on whether or not to hold a town celebration due to a pandemic. He added, “I’m well aware of the governor’s stay safe guidelines and the restriction of events over 250 people. It is likely just ‘luck’ that has allowed Chatfield to not be affected by the virus to this point.” The city is not involved in the planning of Western Days, but the city is asked to approve use of public spaces. The plan as proposed fits under the guidelines, but Novotny made it clear he did not support the use of public spaces. He understands people want a little bit of normal, but didn’t believe people would actually social distance during the celebration.
Councilor Josh Broadwater echoed much of Novotny’s statement. He agreed that social distancing will not realistically happen. “I favor it in spirit, but can’t get behind bringing more people into town and putting city staff at risk. We have been lucky. From the city’s standpoint, we don’t have to be part of Western Days this year,” he stated.
Councilor Mike Urban said he had attended Eyota Days. They had some smaller events that went off without a hitch. “I don’t support big events, but could see having Saddle Club and ATV events. Other events could put city staff in harm’s way. We have to be careful to treat everything the same; we can’t pick and choose,” he added.
Councilor John McBroom was concerned about the email name calling, saying, “I went to Eyota also and during the softball games there was not a lick of social distancing. Western Days has a rich tradition, but I don’t think we would get normal numbers in attendance. COVID is all over the place.”
Councilor Pam Bluhm, also on the Western Days committee, said the fireworks and the parade are canceled. Brad Boice said that he would pull out, and they are down to two vendors.
Mayor Russ Smith noted the traditional Western Days has already been whittled to a shadow of Western Days. The ATV ride doesn’t involve the city. He called for a motion to allow use of city spaces. He then said, if there is no motion for the use of the park and closure of streets, it is dead. Smith went on to explain that for him the mask mandate would be easier to swallow if there was a threshold applied to it. Meaning, a point or number, when new infections and deaths are low enough that we know at that point, we can be back to normal. We don’t know when it will end. He assumes COVID will be around at some level forever. Smith feels not knowing the threshold is why people push back against restrictions. He then called for a motion a second time.
Bluhm noted vendors could set up on private property. She said she plans to abstain. Novotny said he struggles with activities being backed by the city on public property. We have to be over-the-top safe on public property. He noted that the Thurber Building is closed, numerous staff members are working separated, and meetings are being held remotely.
Smith thanked the committee for trying to have something, to help people find something normal.
Brenda Pohlman, Fillmore County’s COVID response operations chief, said they will be releasing updated information on mass gatherings. In the last two weeks the county has had a spike of 19 cases (40% of all cases to this point). Fourteen of those case have been traced directly to gatherings. This is the side effect of events. She added they will assist with compliance assurance and offer an opportunity for anyone wanting additional guidance, saying, “Mass gatherings directly increase risk.”
Smith called for a motion a third time. City Clerk Joel Young explained the horse arena in Mill Creek Park has been used without calling city hall. Events have taken place without asking for permission, but they still need to follow guidelines. As Pohlman explained, there are resources available to help people plan an activity.
Smith wanted councilors to vote on a motion. Urban made the motion denying the request for Western Days, Inc. to hold Western Days activities in City Park, to hold activities that require streets to be closed, and to use city services for related activities. After the motion was approved, councilors thanked the Western Days committee for all their work. Urban said this a very small group of people who plan for this most of the year. Mayor Smith maintained this is not a win for anybody.
Bluhm said the Western Days committee wanted to thank the council for looking at the facts, stating, “We respect your decision.”
Thurber building reopening
Smith asked when the building is going to reopen. Young commented that there are no rules with this virus or how it affects people physically and emotionally. We have a well thought out preparedness plan. Not everyone that works here feels they are ready for the building to be reopened. The public is learning that much can be done electronically and by telephone. They will follow the council’s direction.
Smith again maintained he wanted the July 27 meeting to be held in-person in the council chambers. Each of the councilors said they didn’t have any issue with an in-person meeting. The next meeting is expected to be in-person.