Mask mandate opponents rally at Grand Forks City Hall

Decision comes after council meeting began with protest outside City Hall.

Protestors march in front of City Hall Monday in response to a mask mandate. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — Nearly a week after it was enacted, a group of protesters decried Grand Forks’ citywide mask mandate.

About 25 to 30 people marched outside Grand Forks City Hall on Monday night, chanting “masks won’t protect you,” “unmask the truth” and other slogans as civic leaders and administrators filed inside for a City Council meeting.

As cases of a novel coronavirus continue to climb across Grand Forks County and North Dakota, Grand Forks council members voted unanimously last Monday to require people to wear masks in public, but deliberately excised any sort of prescribed punishment for failing to do so. David Waterman, the head of a group calling itself the Midwest Public Health Coalition, characterized the council’s move as illegal, unethical and immoral.

“The science is very clear,” Waterman, a marketing professional by day, told the Herald. “We’ve studied it extensively, and cloth masks don’t stop COVID-19. They don’t stop any respiratory virus.”


However, various medical experts say the opposite. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, visited North Dakota last month and said evidence shows that local mask requirements have aided in slowing the spread of COVID-19 .

"There is not only an evidence that masks work," Birx said. "There is an evidence that masks utilized as a public health mitigation effort work."

New department head to be a contracted job

Inside City Hall, Grand Forks City Council members met to handle a slate of more-or-less routine civic business. Notably, council members did not attempt to override Mayor Brandon Bochenski’s veto of their earlier decision to make the head of a newly independent city inspections department a civil service employee, rather than a contracted position.

Council members voted 4-3 last month to make that new position a civil service one, arguing that its future occupants would have more protection from developers and city leaders who might pressure them to overlook qualms about a particular project.

The 4-3 vote was a rare outcome in and of itself, but Bochenski’s veto was even more rare. The mayor and some high-level city administrators argued that a contracted employee fit the bill for the new department, noting that other city department heads are also contracted workers, rather than full-fledged civil service employees. The default, so to speak, for the new position would be a contracted one.

Council members could have, in theory, overridden Bochenski’s veto if at least five of them voted to do so, but the 4-3 vote to make the new job a civil service position suggested that flipping a fifth vote would be a difficult proposition. No one spoke when Bochenski asked for a council member to bring the veto override to a vote.

“We have a motion?” he asked, glancing back and forth along the council dais. ”Nope.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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