By Dave Fidlin


Whitewater will soon join Milwaukee, Madison and a smattering of other communities across Wisconsin and have on its books a citywide facemask policy at a time when positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

After a wide-ranging discussion that spanned more than three hours, the Common Council on July 21 voted unanimously in favor of adopting an ordinance that kicks in Aug. 1. After an initial warning, violators could be fined up to $100 for each repeated offense.

At the culmination of the deep dive into the mechanics of the ordinance, the council agreed to sunset the requirement Dec. 31, unless action to shorten or extend the order is taken in advance of the date.

Council President Lynn Binnie and others on the elected body also opted to forgo a second reading of the ordinance — a typical gesture to work out wordsmithing and other issues — so the order could be in place as soon as possible after an intermittent promotion campaign for the duration of July.

From his vantage point, Binnie said he believed it was prudent to act as swiftly as possible to get a handle on the rising number of positive cases locally. Based on the freshest set of information, Binnie said there had been an uptick in cases within Whitewater in the first half of July.

“There’s really been a sea of change the last couple of weeks, with regard to COVID issues,” Binnie said.

None of the seven council members had reservations about having a citywide ordinance on the books. A number of residents and businesses owners weighing in on the matter during the virtual meeting also lent support, though there was some dissention.

Community organizers gathered about 1,000 signatures in a petition in support of the policy. But a counter argument against the mandate also was in place in advance of the council meeting; it garnered about 200 signatures in a petition.

Resident Chris Walters said he was concerned about government overreach and an erosion of constitutional freedoms.

“What about the concern for the rest of us?” Walters said, referring to residents against the mandate. “You’ve got a lot of people that are against this as well. These are taxpaying people.”

Binnie conceded there still is deep division within Whitewater about the mandate — a local lens into the ongoing nationwide debate about taking precautions against the virus and maintaining some sense of normalcy amid the pandemic.

“There was no way to please everybody on this one,” Binnie said.

Throughout the discussion about the ordinance’s nuts and bolts, council members conferred frequently with City Attorney Wally McDonell. One of the litany of questions raised throughout the discussion was how restaurant and bar patrons would be impacted by the mask mandate.

“The ordinance exempts people who are eating and drinking,” McDonell said. “Unfortunately, it’s not black and white, but it does require reasonable conduct.”

While concerns have been raised about the impact a facemask ordinance could have on local business owners, council member James Allen maintained a different perspective.

“If we don’t get this thing under control, the government is going to shut everyone down again,” Allen said. “If we want to remain open, we have to make sacrifices.”



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