Wilton Village Board votes not to enact mask policy

By SARAH PARKER

County Line Editor

Clashing views marked a discussion on a proposed mask requirement for Wilton Village Board meetings, but in the end, the board voted 5–2 against the measure at its meeting Monday.

Board members Eli Yoder and Sid Thayer voted for the policy, with board members Morgan Martin, Tom Brieske, Dave Watters and Reina Coleman and board president Tim Welch voting against it.

At last month’s meeting, Yoder had proposed the mask requirement, suggesting that all meeting attendees wear masks and those who refuse to do so be escorted from the building.

Since last month’s board meeting, Welch had talked to the village’s attorney, Penny Precour of Tomah, regarding the matter. According to the advice he had received, the village could legally put in place a mask requirement, but it would be difficult to enforce. For instance, Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Croninger has stated that he will not prosecute mask violations.

The board cannot offer meetings via Zoom for those who will not wear masks, as internet access is not available in the Wilton Community Center gymnasium, where the board currently meets.

Though only about half of the board members wore masks at last month’s meeting, this month, the lone holdout this month was Tom Brieske.

Welch said to Yoder, “Absolutely, I get where you’re coming from, Eli. Safety is very important.”

But if Brieske did not attend meetings due to the mask requirement, those who voted for him for village board would not be represented, Welch noted.

Brieske did say he likely would attend the meetings despite a mask requirement, though he maintained that he once had asthma, and his doctor had told him it might come out of remission if he were to start wearing a mask.

Yoder said to Brieske, “That is absolutely not true. There is no linkage between asthma and mask wearing. What doctor told you that? If you’re going to quote a doctor, I’d like to talk to this doctor who said you’re going to get asthma by wearing a mask.”

Brieske replied, “He didn’t say I was going to get it; he said I could get it back.”

“And I’m telling you, you don’t get asthma from mask wearing,” Yoder said.

“I didn’t come here to argue with you about any of this stuff,” Brieske said. “I don’t feel I should have to tell you that. It’s my belief that I don’t need to wear a mask, and I know it’s your belief that I do. But I can go into any restaurant in the state of Wisconsin and sit just like this without a mask on. Why would I have to sit in here (with a mask)?”

“Because people are dying from it,” Yoder replied.

Brieske said, “Yep, but people can still go to a restaurant and eat without a mask on.”

“They want us to manage it on a local level,” Yoder said. “So that is up to us to manage it. Your idea of ‘nothing needs to be done because nobody’s getting sick and dying and nobody’s been affected by it’ offends me.”

“I never said that,” Brieske said.

“That’s what you’re implying,” Yoder replied. “That you don’t need to wear a mask here, that you don’t need to wear one in public, because it’s not important. It’s the most important thing you can do right now to prevent the spread of it.”

“I didn’t come here to argue about it,” Brieske replied. “And I don’t want to listen to a lecture about it.”

“Well, I hate to say it, Tom, you’re the only here who’s making a fuss about it,” Yoder said.

“I never made a fuss about it,” Brieske said.

Yoder said, “You refuse to wear one. That is the fuss. You refusing to wear one is the fuss. It is the problem that we’re having in society right now.”

Welch interjected, saying he would have an issue with Brieske not attending the meetings. “He was elected to represent the people of this village,” Welch said.

Furthermore, Welch noted he would oppose denying access to a public meeting based on the individual’s lack of acceptance of wearing a mask.

Yoder replied, “We’re not denying any access to the meeting. We’re requiring a face mask. That is not denying service or rights or anything else. It is protecting the public health. If we don’t protect the public health, and start somewhere, it’ll never start. It’ll just fizzle out, and everybody will say, ‘Well, I don’t need to wear one right now. I don’t need to have one. Well, I’m healthy.’ We had over 7,000 new cases on Friday. The state is not healthy. It’s not good at all. We need to take a stand, and we need to say that anybody that comes to a public meeting has to wear a face mask.”

Arguing against implementing a policy, Coleman noted that other businesses in town were at times crowded and didn’t enforce mask wearing.

“This small group of us meeting once a month for this amount of time and spread out is way lower risk than people sitting in the bars … “

Yoder replied, “We can’t control them without making a whole new village-wide ordinance. We have to do something. We have to take a stand at some point. And saying, ‘Oh, we can’t do anything,’ is not acceptable. It’s getting worse.”

He continued, “It’s here. It’s now. We need to grow up and make some rules that will have some teeth … and branch out from there.”

Martin said to Yoder, “I understand where you’re coming from. I appreciate your passion. But it’s the world that we live in that we can’t force that as a rule.”

Yoder replied, “We are elected officials. That is exactly our job. It’s to make rules and laws. It’s our job to do what we can. We’ve done nothing.”

Martin replied, “People are going to do what they want to do. You can encourage them, but you can’t force them.”

Also, Coleman opined that having basketball practice in the gymnasium was higher risk than a board meeting.

Police chief Jeremy Likely could escort out those not in compliance with a mask policy, Yoder had suggested. But prior to the failure of the motion, assistant clerk Leigha Barton noted that Likely would be prone not to enforce a mask mandate, and clerk Lori Brueggen added that she had seen him without one.

Furthermore, earlier this year, when Monroe County Police Chief Wes Revels said he would not enforce mask mandates, Welch advised Likely to follow Revels’ approach.

Wastewater treatment plant upgrades

Evan Chambers of Town & Country Engineering, a Madison-based firm, presented a tentative plan for extensive upgrades to the village’s 1970s-era wastewater-treatment facility.

The village intends to apply for a USDA Rural Development loan to help cover the costs, which may end up at between $1 million to $2 million.

Ammonia and phosphorus readings beyond state-required levels occur in the plant’s effluent discharge, which goes into the Kickapoo River. Those concerns plus the age of the plant are at the root of the board’s aim to improve its facility.

The plan calls for upgrades to the plant’s lagoon systems, plus a UV disinfection channel, which would replace a chlorination/dechlorination system. Other mechanisms for reducing ammonia and phosphorus will be put in place as well.

Also, monitoring wells have been installed at the plant to ascertain whether the lagoons have leaked into the groundwater. That determination also will affect the nature of the final plan for the facility.

Town & Country intends to finish its design for the wastewater treatment plant by the end of the year.

Other business

• The board will allow the Brookwood Junior High School basketball team to practice in the Wilton Community Center gymnasium, provided the team follows Covid-19 protocols.

The Wilton Community Center will remain closed to the public.

• Rather than offer sick time, the village now will offer personal time that can be used as employees see fit.

• The board adopted a Covid-19 employee policy in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which stipulates that certain employers provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to Covid-19.

• The board approved employee wages for 2021: clerk Leigha Barton, $18 per hour; public works employee Phyllis Brandau, $21.63; clerk/treasurer Lori Brueggen, $27.04; James Dettinger, $9.50; public works employee Steve Laufenberg, $21; and police chief/ambulance director Jeremy Likely, $20.60.

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