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County health board plans to amend mask mandate
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County health board plans to amend mask mandate

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Farmington Attorney Tom Burcham announced that the St. Francois County Health Center “will abandon key measures” in the countywide mask mandate which is to go into effect on Monday.

In a press release, Burcham said he represents a group of businesses and individuals in St. Francois County opposed to the mandate. He explains in the press release that he has been in contact with the health center about legal concerns with the mandate.

St. Francois County Health Center Director Amber Elliott confirmed to the Daily Journal that the health center board is going to have to amend the order that was signed on Tuesday “since the order is not going to be signed/supported by the county commission.”

“Also because the prosecuting attorney and sheriff's office won't support/enforce the order. Because of that, the board has to remove criminal penalties. The order has not even been implemented yet. Therefore, no one has been charged with a crime. Although, there was never a plan to charge anyone with a crime…”

The board will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. Monday at the health center to “Consider Approval of Amended Emergency Face Covering Order No. 20-09-15.”

The press release from Burcham shares Burcham’s comments on behalf of his clients.

“It was illegal for the Health Center, acting on its own, to try to include criminal penalties and fines in the mask mandate it passed on September 15. And the Health Center knew it was illegal, or certainly should have.

“State law defines the Health Center’s scope of power. Imposing criminal penalties or fines is plainly outside that scope of power. As such, the Health Center has tried to abuse its power — plain and simple. Three members of the Health Center Board wanted to make criminals of their fellow citizens who choose to live without wearing a mask. But based on my understanding of what the Health Center now says through its lawyer, the Health Center now acknowledges that it has no power to criminalize those who choose not to wear masks.

“As incredible as it sounds, the Health Center board members who voted for this mandate on September 15 also included language purporting to grant themselves complete protection from liabilities, such as lawsuits, arising from their actions in passing the mandate. That’s beyond the pale. No one can grant themselves total immunity from all liability -- and certainly not three board members of the St. Francois County Health Center.

“After I contacted the Health Center’s lawyer and said we would take these issues to court, the Health Center backed down. They know what they tried to do is illegal and wrong.

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“Either the proponents of the mask mandate at the Health Center did not adequately consult their attorney when putting together this purported order, or they ignored his advice. This inattention and disregard of the law plainly and unequivocally demonstrates the tunnel vision with which this mandate was railroaded through.

“The proponents of this mandate at the Health Center didn’t care about the law. They didn’t care about the data. They didn’t care about economic costs. And perhaps most importantly, they didn’t care about the turmoil, anxiety, or conflict they are causing in the communities they are supposed to be serving.

“It is my understanding that the Health Center’s board is scheduled to meet on Monday morning at 10:00 AM to decide what to do next. I certainly don’t speak for the Health Center or its board, but among their options at that meeting are to repeal the mask mandate entirely, or to create a new mask mandate which does not include criminal penalties, nor fines, nor self-immunity, or to do something else. If a new mandate is passed, my clients will look at its content and determine their next move.

“It’s a sad day when citizens are forced to go to the law to protect themselves from their own Health Center.”

The director of the health center said they do have “statutory immunity under 537.600-610, RSMo., as do nearly all Missouri public entities.”

Elliott again emphasized the intent of the board was never to charge anyone with a crime and their only concern is protecting the public.

She said, “The defamation of character of the board is, in my opinion, very extreme.”

Under “Application and Enforcement” the amended mandate states, “Violation of any provision of this order constitutes an imminent threat and creates an immediate menace to public health. For purposes of enforcement and to secure compliance with the order, the local health authority or designated representative, or the St. Francois County Health Center may seek injunctive relief against an individual or entity that fails to comply with this order.”

The order states the local health authority has the authority to establish control measures to prevent or control the spread of infectious disease, including isolation, quarantine, disinfection and closures of establishments in the interest of public health. It states it has the authority to isolate and quarantine COVID cases and close contacts, and also to close public or private schools or other place of public and private assembly when the closure is necessary to protect the health of the public.

To see all the changes view the amended order online at http://sfchc.org/covid-19-updates/ .

During the Friday afternoon media call, Elliott was asked with the criminal penalties being removed if businesses could be fined. She said they would have the authority to serve an injunction if needed.

Board President Jack Poston was asked if the mask mandate was still going to remain a mandate without the criminal penalties or just a strong suggestion. Poston said it would be a mandate and he would hope the community would go along with it.

The mandate would remain in effect until at least Oct. 22 and he hopes with the mandate, the community will see a decrease in cases. He's hopeful it will be a big help to the community.

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