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Pocatello City Council decides against reinstating a mask mandate


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POCATELLO — The Pocatello City Council will not be enforcing a mask mandate ordinance now or in the immediate future.

At a special council meeting Tuesday, members discussed their views of government-enforced mask requirements. With around 30 audience members packed into the council chambers, and another 15 or so viewing from the lobby of City Hall, four members of the council stated their opposition to the mandate.

One of those four was Rick Cheatum.

“I think it’s time we let responsible citizens make the decisions necessary for their best health outcome on their own,” Cheatum said. “I will not vote to impose another mask mandate.”

He spoke, to a rousing ovation, about the need to allow citizens and businesses the option to make their own decisions regarding their health and safety – adding that those citizens must be prepared for the consequences of those decisions.

Linda Leeuwrik was one of two council members who spoke in support of a potential mask mandate, saying that the council has the responsibility to add measures of public safety through city ordinances. She likened COVID safety measures to speed limits and food service health and safety requirements.

She said that among the things she finds most beautiful about this country is its freedoms.

“However,” she said, “freedom doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever you want whenever you want. If what you’re doing harms someone else, or could potentially harm someone else, then that freedom does have some limits on it.”

Because the Tuesday meeting was a special council session, rather than a public forum, those in attendance were not given the opportunity to speak. On several occasions, Mayor Brian Blad was forced to calm the crowd, even threatening to clear council chambers.

For many council votes, a public forum is provided, in which residents are allotted three minutes to speak for or against the proposed agenda item.

At special sessions, like Tuesday’s, there are no public comments — which angered at least one member of the audience. There are also no required votes or action items.

The council was not required to vote for or against an ordinance at the meeting – it was held purely to satisfy a stipulation made to a motion rescinding the previous mask mandate at an April 26 meeting.

Per that motion, made by councilman Roger Bray, the council was forced to discuss an additional mandate due to the county hitting an infection rate of 15 cases per 10,000 residents.

There was a vote that ended the session, however.

Another stipulation included in Bray’s motion was a meeting to once again discuss a mask mandate once the infection rate in the county reached 30 cases per 10,000. Because that rate was met in the same week as the previous mark, Bannock County currently sits at 32.1 cases per 10,000, according to the Southeastern Idaho Public Health District, the council voted to satisfy both stipulations with Tuesday’s meeting, meaning the council will not discuss a mask mandate until further guidance from state or federal entities.

Cheatum, along with council chair Heidi Adamson and councilwomen Claudia Ortega and Christine Stevens, voted to forgo a second discussion. Council members Leeuwrik and Bray voted against the motion.

During his address, Cheatum did speak to the vaccination rate of Bannock County, which sits at 43%.

With the Food and Drug Administration granting full approval of the Pfizer vaccine Monday, Cheatum believes that the controversy over the validity and safety of that particular vaccine was put to rest.

“I hope the holdouts get vaccinated and can be added to the goal of 70 to 80% of vaccinations needed reach the herd immunity standards,” he said.