Kent City Council passes emergency motion banning mass gatherings

Kent City Council’s Oct 21. meeting continued further discussions on preventing the spread of coronavirus, including an emergency motion to approve a ban on mass gatherings.

The council previously heard from the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee on Oct. 7 in which the council voted 6-2 to approve ordinance 2020-97, which limits mass gatherings to 10 or less people. With the council’s initial vote to approve the motion, the ordinance was expected to take effect on Nov. 7, as it was not approved on emergency due to Councilwoman Tracy Wallach’s absence during the Oct. 7 meeting.

Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer Bish elected to reconsider the motion in order to approve ordinance 2020-97 on emergency. That motion passed 8-1, with ordinance 2020-97 being approved on emergency in a 7-2 vote shortly after.

By voting with emergency approval, ordinance 2020-97 would go into effect immediately.

Samantha Wyler, a Kent resident, voiced her concerns earlier in the meeting regarding the city’s efforts to enforce masks and social distancing. She asked the council to consider passing a similar ordinance that would issue civil fines to adults who have refused to wear masks in public spaces prior to Wednesday’s regular meeting.

“While I greatly appreciate what the city of Kent has done to control the spread of the virus, more and more research is coming up to conclude that airborne transmission may be the dominant route of infection,” Wyler said. “I am a graduate student with a disability, who at some point needs to go home to New York and see my doctors or risk losing the medication I need to be healthy. When I go home, I will have to quarantine for two weeks before I can go anywhere in the state, including to see my doctors. I am scared to go back home and quarantine with my aging parents who have their own medical issues due to the careless disregard of others who made it clear that they won’t listen to signs or public health experts.”

Wyler’s comments continued a discussion into controlling the spread of coronavirus in Kent. Councilwoman Wallach asked to consider whether or not to enforce a civil fine on masks in the city. The consideration intertwined with the committee’s decision to approve ordinance 2020-97. Wallach cited Portage County’s level 3 status in coronavirus cases as the result of students returning to school.

“Things are getting worse and worse. People are suffering from COVID fatigue and they’re starting to be relaxed with their safeguards,” Wallach said. “I don’t want to get [COVID]. You can’t go anywhere if there are students not wearing masks.”

The council members deliberated on how to enforce fines on public property.

“The reality is we’ve done the masks, the issue now is enforcing [the mask mandate],” said Robin Turner, councilman of Ward 3. “We ought to be discussing whether or not we have the capability first off to mandate that people who are owners of property and businesses be then responsible to ensure that there is compliance [with the mandate] on their property.”

Councilwoman Shaffer Bish: “We have made a mask mandate. Maybe we need to have a clarification of what is a public place, and what is not a public place.”

The meeting also approved several ordinances that were previously discussed in the council’s Oct. 7 meeting. This included ordinance 2020-99 authorizing the city to submit two grant applications: One for clarifiers at the city’s Water Reclamation Facility, and the other to be appropriated for waterline construction north of Fairchild Avenue and east of Major’s Lane in the city.

Ordinance 2020-100 was also approved by the council. This ordinance authorizes the city to to apply for $30,000 in grant funding to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OPEA). The funds will be applied to the installation of two dual-port electric vehicle charging stations to be located at the new City Administration Building.

Further information on ordinances discussed by the city council can be found in the council agenda. A live recording of the meeting, including the public hearings held prior to the meeting, is available for public viewing on the city’s YouTube page.