WORTHINGTON — In an additional action to support local businesses, the Worthington City Council voted 3-2 during a special Friday afternoon meeting to allow local bars, restaurants, theaters, hair salons and others the right to reopen as soon as they like.
The decision was passed with an important contingency, as either City Administrator Steve Robinson or Mayor Mike Kuhle will contact Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s office next week as to whether businesses possessing state licensure will be held harmless as a result of operating under the council’s latest resolution.
On Wednesday, Walz announced that many small businesses and retailers would be able to reopen on Monday, as long as they had plans that protected both customers and employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Bars, restaurants and others could be open as early as June 1, he added, under plans to be created by state health officials.
City Councilman Alan Oberloh made the motion to approve the action.
“When I’ve encountered anybody … I’ve been told, ‘I hope you guys open this whole thing up,”’ Oberloh said. “I watch a lot of news-style programs on TV, and this thing (COVID-19 and related safety concerns) is ever-changing. Nobody is saying with this that any business has to reopen, and nobody is saying that anyone has to shop in a business if it does open.”
Oberloh then gave an example of a hairdresser who expressed a fear of losing her licensure if she chose to reopen ahead of the governor’s “Stay Safe MN” strategy. That’s why a conversation with the governor’s office needed to be part of Friday’s city resolution, he said — to make sure she and others like her aren’t penalized by the state as a result.
“The lifeblood of this community hinges on the decision we make today,” said Oberloh, adding that he was aware of other communities that were paying attention to the council’s decision. “This community is really hurting.”
City Councilman Chad Cummings seconded Oberloh’s motion. He noted that his biggest issue on Monday — reopening retail businesses — was addressed Wednesday by the governor, and said he hadn’t talked to anyone in the restaurant, salon or bar sector who was willing to risk losing a license by reopening.
“If we say ‘go ahead and open’ and then the state comes and revokes their licenses, we don’t have a leg to stand on,” Cummings said. “We can say ‘go ahead and open,’ but I don't know if anyone’s going to open.”
Oberloh again stressed the importance of communicating with the governor’s office as soon as possible to ensure licenses wouldn’t be revoked. Larry Janssen, the only council member to vote “no” in a Monday resolution to support the reopening of local businesses, wasn’t convinced such a conversation or meeting would make a difference.
“The governor won’t do anything; he’ll pass the buck to the state,” Janssen said. “ I believe the governor’s on the right path, and I think we should give him time.”
Janssen also noted that he was thanked by a constituent for his “no” vote earlier this week, and that it was appreciated by a person who works on the frontline in health care.
Mike Harmon, who voted “yes” on Monday’s council resolution, noted that while he was “sympathetic to the business community,” the high per-capita count of positive COVID-19 cases in Nobles County concerned him. He also wanted to remain in the good graces of the governor and state lawmakers, particularly with a bonding bill hanging in the balance in St. Paul.
Council member Amy Ernst asked Oberloh to clarify what the conversation with the governor’s office entailed. She later joined Oberloh and Cummings in voting in favor, while Janssen and Harmon were against.