MARYVILLE, Mo. — Misinformation pervaded discussions of the most important issues that will face residents this year at another well-attended Maryville City Council meeting Monday evening.
Held once again at the Maryville Community Center to accommodate a larger-than-average crowd, Monday’s meeting was a rarity in that it was purely discussion with no council votes on any ordinances or other measures. Instead, council members and members of the public sparred over COVID-19 measures after briefings by city officials.
With the city’s mask mandate set to expire on Jan. 31 barring an extension, council members asked for more information from health officials before making that decision. City Manager Greg McDanel said he will request that someone from the health department attend the Jan. 25 meeting to answer questions from the council, after which council members will decide whether to extend the mandate.
Most — though not all — of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting were strongly against extending the mandate, and decried the steps the city has taken so far to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“All I’m saying is give people a choice: you know, if you choose to wear a mask, if you feel like you might be at risk, if you’re in a public place and you want to wear a mask — you have that option,” said John McBride, a Maryville resident who has said he intends to run for a City Council seat in the April election. “I don’t understand.”
“I’ve read your opinion and I don’t want you to think that I only read things that agree with me — I absolutely do not,” said City Council member Rachael Martin in response. “But I think that when it comes to public health, and during this window of time in which we are in a crisis, my opinion is not actually based on my personal feelings about wearing masks. I do not like wearing a mask. I get really hot — I’m pregnant, so I get hot anyway. I don’t enjoy wearing a mask at all.
“But because of what I have read, and because of what I believe, I think it is best, and because the leaders … I respect and follow are in favor of asking everyone to wear a mask. And as many people (who) are loud and feel like you do, there’s a whole other side of people who feel exactly the opposite.”
Martin said that a survey sent out to residents over the summer ahead of the initial mask mandate passage returned with results showing a majority of respondents in favor.
“It’d be like saying that it’s a choice to drive drunk,” Martin said, prompting protests from McBride that the comparison wasn’t accurate. “Because it hurts someone else, and that’s exactly what COVID does.”
Maryville resident Mike Coffelt questioned why the city is adhering to state guidelines in using county COVID-19 positivity rates instead of using only numbers from those who live within city limits — a number he said he thought would be much lower.
“If we’re going to mandate masks in the city of Maryville, use the city of Maryville’s population,” Coffelt said. “I don’t care what the state does. You guys operate the city of Maryville’s government. You don’t have to use the state, you can make up your own mind.”
In November, an emergency order tied some mitigation measures, like business occupancy limits and social group size, to state recommendations that are based on the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in the county.
McDanel said the city uses county data because the health department does not provide more specific locational data of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. In the past, Nodaway County Health Department Administrator Tom Patterson has said that his agency lacks the staff required to compile such information.
Tim Jackson, a business owner who has also voiced his intention to run for a City Council seat in April, said that City Hall should not be closed to the public, and falsely claimed that the city’s water customers are still charged a transaction fee for paying online — the most convenient option for many while City Hall is closed to the general public.
“If masks work, then, why isn’t City Hall open? Why does City Hall need to have the doors locked if masks work?” Jackson said. “If everybody there is wearing a mask and everybody that walks through the doors is wearing a mask, why is City Hall locked?”
“I don’t think anyone on Council has argued that masks are 100 percent effective, just the same as washing your hands,” Martin responded. “If I wash my hands, I might still get COVID, but I’m not going to not wash my hands.”
Martin, who fielded the vast majority of the comments and questions lobbed from the crowd, said that city officials made the decision to make City Hall open by appointment only in order to try and do as much as possible to keep employees healthy while still maintaining vital services. During one pointed exchange, Martin asked if there were any services that Jackson had not been able to get while City Hall has been closed.
“Absolutely not,” Jackson said. “But that’s not the point.”
“OK, that’s what we’re here to do, is make sure that we’re able to serve you,” Martin said. “And it’s my belief that we have been able to do that even with the doors locked.”
The exchanges between the council and those against the mask mandate at times turned testy, and multiple council members were visibly and audibly frustrated with the residents’ apparent unwillingness to listen to the council’s responses and reasoning.
“What I hope you will someday see is that our intention is a positive thing,” Martin told Jackson after one such exchange. “Our intention, sitting up here, is to put the health of the people of Maryville first. Now, if our method is something that you don’t agree with, you have every right to voice your concern. But I just — I don’t think that you and I could talk for 24 hours straight and come to an agreement on whether we think masks are effective. So I’m not sure that’s a worthy argument for us to begin.”
During an update on the city’s water situation, McDanel said that an algicide treatment meant to be administered on Dec. 23 did not arrive on time and has not yet been applied to Mozingo Lake because of ice that formed in the meantime.
At the Dec. 15 meeting, the City Council approved a $33,000 agreement to purchase EarthTec algicide, aimed at preventing algae blooms that have been the cause of previous taste and odor issues. A significant factor in selecting the bid was the company’s assurance that it could deliver the chemical within a week of approval. At Monday’s meeting, McDanel said the city is considering whether to pursue legal action on the possible breach of contract.
“Earth Science Lab was the vendor, Hawkins Treatment Group was the distributor and then there was a third-party shipping company that all have blamed each other on not delivering that chemical on (Dec. 23),” McDanel said. “We received that chemical finally — after much effort by staff … on December 30th.”
The application is unrelated to geosmin, a naturally occurring compound that spiked in December and adversely affected the smell and taste of the water. McDanel said that geosmin levels have nosedived since — dropping from a high of 2,200 nanograms per liter last month to about 300 this month — but remain well above the threshold for human detection. The water provided to customers has continued to be safe to drink.
At the Jan. 25th City Council meeting, McDanel said that HDR Engineering will brief the council on its finalized comprehensive recommendations and options for overhauling the city’s water infrastructure and source water management systems. They will likely include recommendations for a new water treatment facility — which McDanel has estimated will cost somewhere between $15-30 million and take up to 3 years to complete.
Additionally, the city is working on a wide-ranging plan on source water management at Mozingo Lake, where the city’s raw water supply comes from. McDanel said that Monday, city officials held a monthly meeting with 23 state and federal agencies that are working to adapt programs to fit Maryville’s needs.
“It’s important to note that the watershed … is nearly 13,000 acres, so, it is quite the significant public-private partnership that is going to have to be derived with substantial funding to change some of the land use behaviors, some of the applications and other thing to improve the water quality in that watershed long-term,” McDanel said.
So far, the city has already made use of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources directed to assist farmers change agricultural practices in the watershed that may be contributing to the high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in Mozingo Lake — believed to be the root cause of the large algae blooms that lead to taste and odor issues.
The city has also been working with the Missouri Rural Water Association toward meeting with local landowners around the watershed to develop specific, individualized plans. Those meetings have been pushed off because of COVID-19, but McDanel said that MRWA has developed a six-point plan of action that will be presented to city officials within 30 days.
And in June, the United States Geological Survey collected data to map the topography of the lakebed and compare it to earlier imaging in order to determine where the largest sediment and nutrient buildup has occurred. That study will take up to a year to complete, McDanel said.
Other City Council notes
- McDanel said that the city has so far logged 375 direct contacts, 51 warnings and issued one citation at 84 locations in connection with the city’s mask mandate. The city stepped up enforcement of the ordinance in November.
- The city is working with a contractor to repair damage from a water main leak at 16th Street and Icon Road. McDanel said he hopes to have an agreement by the end of the week, then weather will determine when repairs occur.