WORTHINGTON — With the reopening of bars and restaurants for indoor dining still unauthorized by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, it appears likely the Worthington City Council will soon consider an alternative.
Following Walz’s announcement Wednesday that eateries could begin serving customers on June 1 — but only at outdoor tables, with a limit to 50 patrons at a time who are encouraged to wear masks and required to make reservations — Worthington City Councilman Alan Oberloh was quick to offer an idea to further boost those establishments.
“After hearing of Gov. Walz’s answer to the restricted reopening of bars and restaurants, at the next Council meeting I will propose allowing all food and beverage establishments to utilize City sidewalks for their outdoor seating immediately,” Oberloh wrote on Facebook.
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle said later Wednesday afternoon that he supported Oberloh’s plan.
“I support using sidewalks for dining; it is very reasonable and a great way to support the businesses,” he said. “I would also support letting businesses use a couple of parking spots for outdoor dining.
“I also understand that MNDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) has been instructed to look at right of ways and parking spots within their jurisdiction to free up space for outdoor seating,” Kuhle added. “These are reasonable requests to make in these times.”
The mayor also pointed out that city council members recently passed an ordinance change that allows for outdoor dining in the downtown area. Oberloh, though, said his proposal would eliminate the need for following the steps detailed in the ordinance, and would immediately allow for tables to be set up on sidewalks and in parking stalls in all areas of the city other than just downtown. Those businesses would only need a temporary rider on their insurance policies in order to offer such seating, Oberloh added.
The city council, during a special May 15 meeting, had voted 3-2 to allow local bars, restaurants, theaters, hair salons and others the right to reopen as soon as they like. The resolution was passed with an important contingency, as Gov. Walz’s office would be contacted about whether businesses possessing state licensure will be held harmless as a result of operating under the council’s action.
Kuhle proceeded to follow up with council members in a Monday letter shared with The Globe,
“I called the Governor’s office immediately after the council meeting on Friday,” Kuhle wrote. “In talking with Patrick Tanis (an aide to the Governor), I requested a conference call with Steve Robinson, the Governor and myself.
“The aide asked what the reason for the call was and I explained the motion passed by council,” the mayor continued. “Steve Robinson also received a call from Patrick Tanis and talked
about the motion passed by council. The aide explained that the executive orders were in place and that moving forward, it was up to law enforcement and then state licensure boards to enforce.”
Kuhle said he had not received a call from the governor as of Monday, but believed the response from Tanis spoke for itself.
“The motion did accomplish one thing in that it punctuated the need to move forward the opening of our economy in Worthington,” Kuhle wrote to council members. “But any guarantee that our businesses will be held harmless by the state is not going to happen.
“We all want the businesses in Worthington to open sooner than later, but for multiple liability
reasons we should not put the city at risk by getting in the middle of enforcement of the
executive orders,” Kuhle continued. “I do not care if other cities are looking at what Worthington does, we need to be concerned only for what is best for our community. The council did a good job in making the case to the governor that we need to open this economy up or risk losing more businesses.”
Walz announced Wednesday that salons could open June 1, so long as their capacities are reduced to 25% and staff wear personal protective equipment. Further caution, though, was exercised with restaurants and bars, which Oberloh and others find frustrating. Oberloh said Jackson and Windom have now enacted measures that allow for the placing of city park picnic tables in both downtown and other areas for outdoor dining, and added that he wished he had brought forth a proposal on May 15 which essentially declared that the city intended to go its own way on opening its businesses.
For example, Oberloh explained, the city of Eveleth passed a resolution earlier this week that quotes the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that no state can take away citizens’ rights without due process of law. The state’s forcing of businesses to remain closed is an infringement on citizens’ constitutional right to make a living, it argues.