CARTHAGE, Mo. — Masks will not be required to be worn in public in Carthage; the city’s parks are not limited to gatherings of 10 people or fewer; and the annual Independence Day fireworks celebration and the Jasper County Youth Fair will continue as scheduled.

The Carthage City Council rejected by narrow votes some specific proposals to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the city in a special meeting Wednesday.

What it did approve was a proposal that was not on the agenda — a proposal from panel member Alan Snow to create a task force of residents and community leaders to discuss the COVID-19 crisis and make recommendations as to what the city government should do in response.

The suggestion came up at a special meeting the council held June 25, so Mayor Dan Rife said he had been reaching out to people who might serve on such a task force.

“I think by next week or so we can start working on ideas,” Rife said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I started putting out feelers last week, so I got a pretty good jump on it.”

Snow said he wanted input from people who were willing to help guide the community so the council wasn’t relying only on its own opinions and feelings.

“I would like a task force that can research and come together with a plan to help us move forward rather than us trying to pass council bills that are hard to enforce,” Snow said. “That based on the feedback we’ve received from the community are about 50 percent for and 50 percent against. Those types of ordinances are going to be very difficult to defend or enforce.”

Snow suggested the task force at the start of the meeting, but the council voted to push back discussion on it until after it had considered the three things that were on the agenda.

When it finally came to a vote, the task force was the only unanimous vote of the meeting.

Closing the parks

Member David Armstrong said he wasn't in favor of closing the parks completely, but he wanted to “pump the brakes” on larger gatherings.

“What I want to look at is, is it possible for us to social distance when we are outside? Yes,” Armstrong said. “Is that what I’m anecdotally seeing as I drive around to many of these events in town? No. So I don’t know that our community necessarily is on board with where things are in reality.”

The council voted 7-3 to amend Armstrong’s proposal to close the parks to groups larger than 10 to exempt the big activities coming up in July, the end of youth baseball and softball seasons, the Independence Day fireworks on Saturday, and the Jasper County Youth Fair starting on July 11.

Armstrong decried that decision, saying he thought it “sent the wrong message by making exclusions for basically everyone who was unable to reschedule at this point.”

“The problem is when we were dealing with this in the appropriate way earlier, we didn’t have the crisis at our doorstep,” Armstrong said. “Now that the crisis is here, I think we need to act decisively to address that we’re actually in the first wave of this event rather than pretend it’s not happening and put our head in the sand and walk away. I just think this motion, while I understand the spirit of it and I understand the desire to have these things happen, I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”

The council rejected his argument, voting 6-4 against closing the parks.

Mandatory masks

A debate on masks centered on whether an ordinance mandating them was enforceable.

The ordinance proposed in Carthage called for everyone over the age of 6 to wear a mask or face covering while in public. It provided exceptions for people with health conditions and said enforcement would focus first on “educating and working to promote the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19.”

The next steps would be a warning, followed by a civil citation, “only when necessary,” the ordinance read.

Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan, when asked by council members to weigh in on the proposed ordinance, said enforcement “could cause us some conflicts that could put our city in a bad light over just a minor thing.”

Dagnan said he was concerned about someone intentionally pushing a police officer so as to become that person arrested for not wearing a mask.

He also said the medical exemption in the ordinance would make it difficult to enforce.

“If we do find them and they just look at us and say, I have a medical condition, well, we’re certainly not going to be able to screen them for medical conditions," Dagnan said. "So in my opinion, I’m a mask wearer, I believe in it, whenever I have to go watch my grandkids play softball or whatever, when I get that enjoyment of doing that, I wear a mask. I’m for it. I think enforcing a mask ordinance is impossible.”