The Perry City Council dropped its requirement Monday that face masks be worn during city council meetings, and it reviewed the city policies on public access to city buildings.
“We are going to make it optional starting tonight until further notice,” said Perry Mayor John Andorf. “I think everybody welcomes that.” The council unanimously approved the motion.
The council also reviewed the current accessibility status of city buildings, noting the Perry City Hall and McCreary Community Building are now “fully open to the public,” while access to the Perry Public Library is “limited,” and the Perry Water Works “remains closed to the public.”
Perry Water Works Superintendent Matt Holmes told the city council that the Water Works Board of Trustees has not yet made a decision about resuming public accessibility.
“We have been talking about what to do down at the Water Department,” Holmes said. “As of the last board meeting, it was decided to table it.”
Holmes said operation of the 1101 W. Third St. office presented challenges even prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 restrictions necessitated closing the office to walk-in customers.
“We kept the drive through open at the time and found out that that was the wrong choice to do,” he said. “We had cars backed up for one to two blocks going both ways down Willis. It just didn’t work. So we ended up closing both, and we have found out that it works so well, and I can admit that I was wrong when I said it wasn’t going to work.”
Holmes said closing the office significantly reduced overtime for office staff members over the last year and eliminated the majority of credit card fees for customers, who pay a lower fee when they use the Water Works’ online payment system. Arrangements for accepting cash payments still present one trouble spot, he said, and it is related to the issue of staff members’ security in the workplace.
“We’ve been looking into different options for that,” Holmes said. “We’ve been trying to find ways where we can still do that while not necessarily having our office open.”
Several council members urged reopening the office to the public.
“I just think it should be open,” said council member Dr. Randy McCaulley. “That’s just my opinion. I mean, we have a brick-and-mortar building there, so that should be open.”
“I’d like to see it back open, too,” said council member Dean Berkland.
Holmes encouraged the public to attend the next meeting of the Perry Water Works Board of Trustees on June 10 at 8 a.m. and express their opinions on the question, The public can attend the meeting in person or via Zoom, or they can send comments in advance via telephone at 515-465-2562 or by email to email@example.com.
“We’re definitely open for suggestions on all of this,” Holmes said. “We’re hoping that we can find a way to keep the public happy. We want to still take deposits and welcome people to town when they’re coming to town right away, but we’re just hoping we can keep this streamlined the way it’s going.”
Following the council meeting, the city’s COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information page was updated, indicating the public accessibility of city properties.
The city council’s self-unmasking came one day before the Perry School Board dropped all mask requirements in the Perry Community School District, including mandatory mask use on school buses, and three days before Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill banning mask mandates in schools, cities and counties.
Echoing PCSD Board President Kyle Baxter, Rep. Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford), speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, tweeted early Thursday, “Parents, now you get to make the choice on whether your kids will wear a mask or not.”
Mask skepticism was steady in Iowa during the year-long COVID-19 pandemic, with some people believing masks do not work or that they harm children’s development. Vaccine hesitancy emerged more recently, with 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties, including Dallas County, turning down all or most of the vaccine doses available to the state from the federal government for the week of May 10 because demand for the shots remains weak, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). About 41% of Dallas County residents were fully vaccinated as of May 19, according to the IDPH.
“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement early Thursday at the close of the legislative session.