Nixa Mayor Brian Steele and Ozark Mayor Rick Gardner

FROM LEFT, Nixa Mayor Brian Steele and Ozark Mayor Rick Gardner at a joint press conference at the Ozark Community Center July 17.

When examining testimony from public masking bill hearings in Nixa, Springfield and Branson, some trends run together in all three cities. First, these meetings have attracted people who have never shown enough interest in their city government to attend a council meeting or a board of aldermen meeting, until now. This is overall positive. 

You shouldn’t be required to follow play-by-play of what your board of aldermen or city council is doing, unless you really want to. However, part of being a good citizen is at least knowing how your city government generally works. That way, should you ever be compelled to speak at a public hearing, or maybe lend an educated or expert opinion to a debate, you can do so without second guessing the procedures and general operations of your government. At the same time, that government should be doing its part to make itself accessible to you. It goes both ways.

In Ozark, board of aldermen meetings have been conducted over the Zoom teleconferencing platform since public health suggestions and orders related to the pandemic began in March. One such meeting occurred July 27, when Mayor Rick Gardner and the Ozark Board of Aldermen held a special session related to consideration of a face covering bill. They invited Christian County Health Department Administrator Karen Peak to attend and speak.

However, they did not invite public comment. That’s because they don’t actually have a face covering bill drafted for consideration at this point. They were debating the idea of asking for such a bill to be written, a debate before the debate, if you will.

“At this point, it is not on the agenda as a bill,” Gardner said. “It is not our intent to do that, because it is not necessary.”

At a press conference July 17, Gardner said that there was value in holding some uniformity with Nixa, where the city council voted against enacting a public masking ordinance. 

“It is the desire of Mayor Gardner and the Board to have the special meeting serve as an opportunity for the public to gain all the information possible from Christian County Health Department director and hear the viewpoints of their elected officials prior to preparing a bill/ordinance for public comment,” a press release issued by the city of Ozark reads.

There is a public meeting scheduled for Aug. 3. That will be the time for citizens to address the board about their concerns or their support for face covering use in public. The crux of the debate should be whether or not the city government should make mask use mandatory. 

“In attendance at this public meeting will include the aldermen and Mayor Gardner, who welcome the opportunity to hear from local residents on this potential ordinance. The agenda and meeting notice will contain important information for requirements to sign up to speak at this meeting,” the press release reads.

Public hearings of this magnitude tend to attract a good deal of emotion. They also attract guests from other cities. Sure, they have strong opinions about mask use, but they also want to make sure you know that they’re running for Congress, they have a website, they have a YouTube channel, they’ve written a book — they have something to promote.

There are plenty of distractions to be had at these public hearings. People bring props and wear costumes, they project their voices in anger and indignation, they give miniature sermons and attempt to stun us all with their knowledge of literature. There are those, too, who want to debate whether or not COVID-19 is a real disease, or if it’s a biological weapon, if it’s the New World Order coming to take your jobs, your kids, your rights and your microwavable dinners.

All of that is really nebulous in the scheme of what the Ozark Board of Aldermen may be considering, or may not actually consider at all after July 28. The board won’t be debating how many deaths are tolerable during a time of global pandemic, or how many fractions of a micron your face mask needs to be rated for, or even the effectiveness of one mask against thousands of positive PCR tests. 

The debate is simple: how far should local government go in attempting to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and should that mitigation involve requiring all who are able to wear masks in public places?

If they can keep the debate confined to those parameters, the Ozark Board of Aldermen should be in for a productive and healthy debate. If it goes out of bounds, and it probably will, we’re going to be in for a lengthy debate in which some good, solid information runs the risk of being shuffled and lost.

Here are a few tips for surviving your first city government meeting: never go on an empty stomach, always eat before you go to City Hall. Remember to hydrate properly as well. Take a few moments to let your body adjust to breathing comfortably with your face mask on so you don’t hyperventilate upon entering City Hall. Pop a few breath mints to reduce funky mask breath. If it’s your first city government meeting, you should be listening about nine times as much as you are talking so that you can pick up who the different people are and how they work. If you speak, stay on topic and avoid repeating yourself. Finally, remember that everyone else in the room is also a real human being with thoughts, feelings and emotions just like you.

—Rance Burger

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