By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

After failing to gain traction recently and continuing to lack unanimous support this week, a citywide ordinance Whitewater related to mass gatherings amid COVID-19 has been scrapped.

The Common Council on Sept. 15 continued discussing the would-be ordinance, which was proposed after observations were made of University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students returning to school and gathering in large groups in the days before classes resumed.

Instead, a co-enforcement effort between the city and university police departments is being explored.

City Attorney Wally McDonell had drafted several iterations of an ordinance last week, one placing a general prohibition of no more than 10 non-household people from gathering indoors and no more than 25 non-household people from gathering outdoors.

But several council members said the document needed wordsmithing and a less targeted approach toward UW-Whitewater students. Concerns of landlords’ responsibilities also were raised when the proposal was presented at the special Sept. 9 council meeting.

City Manager Cameron Clapper acknowledged that he had reached out to a cross-section of people throughout Whitewater late last week and early this week after a vote was not taken Sept. 9.

“It was clear that (the original draft ordinance) was not supported overall,” Clapper said. “But there’s clearly a desire to reduce the spread (of COVID-19). That seems to be a unanimous desire.”

UW-Whitewater officials had been imploring city decision-makers to have an ordinance on the books in the first half of September.

At the Sept. 15 meeting, Interim Chancellor Greg Cook said the university itself has stepped up some of its own efforts, including use of a provision within state statute that gives UW-Whitewater the authority to sanction students for infractions, such as mass gathering violations.

“We have been very busy,” Cook said of sounding a message within the campus community about mass gathering prohibitions. “We’re doing everything we can. We’re eager to work with the city. I still maintain it’s a group effort.”

Cook and other UW-Whitewater administrators said they still would have preferred the city have an ordinance on its books to give the sanctioning efforts more strength — particularly beyond the campus’ boundaries.

“I was disappointed an ordinance was not passed,” Cook said of what occurred at the Sept. 9 council meeting. “I’m still disappointed an ordinance wasn’t passed.”

While no council members expressed interest in voting on a revised ordinance this week, three of the seven elected members — Council President Lynn Binnie and council members Brienne Brown and Greg Majkrzak II — said they still were supportive of having some type of document on the books.

“We’ve got three out of seven, and three out of seven isn’t going to pass something,” Binnie said. “My personal apologies to the chancellor that we’ve been unable to address the concern … in a manner that some of us believe would be appropriate.”

But other elected officials, including council member Patrick Singer, said the city’s role in the matter is challenging. Because COVID-19 is a public health issue, Singer said the county health departments should be providing guidance on the matter.

“Unfortunately, we live in two counties that are probably not going to be coming to our aide,” Singer said. “So, we get put in this awkward position of trying to fill a gap. Our police department is not a public health agency.”

 
 

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