The Pequot Lakes City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday, May 12, to let businesses in the city reopen, despite the governor’s executive order prohibiting some of those businesses to be open because of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders.

The governor’s order is set to expire Monday, May 18.

The council adopted a resolution to allow all city businesses to open if they choose to do so. Businesses must follow Minnesota Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and OSHA workplace safety practices and guidelines, the resolution says. Those practices include but are not limited to social distancing, hygiene, facial coverings, on-site sanitation and limited number of people in stores.

“Our city council has now chosen that all businesses can be open that choose to be open,” council member Scott Pederson said, adding they do have to follow safety precautions, and that includes businesses that are open now but not following safety guidelines.

The resolution says the council supports residents’ choice to stay home or to move about freely within the city and to support the economy while maintaining behaviors to preserve the health and safety of all residents.

Council member Jerry Akerson asked if it was against the law for businesses to reopen. He cast the vote against adopting the resolution, saying the city would incur liability and the coronavirus is real and dangerous.

Pequot Lakes interim police Sgt. Kate Petersen said there are penalties for violating executive orders, but she hasn’t seen or heard of anyone in the area enforcing the order.

Council member Mimi Swanson voted for the resolution but with reservations, initially saying the council should wait to hear if the governor planned to extend his executive order past May 18. Some said Gov. Tim Walz would speak on the matter Wednesday, May 13.

Pederson, who has advocated for supporting smalltown businesses before they are forced to close their doors, said: “It’s our town.”

He urged businesses to check with the Pequot Lakes Chamber, which as part of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce is helping businesses prepare a plan showing they can safely open.

Some businesses get to be open and others don’t, Pederson said, and some that are open aren’t following safety guidelines. All businesses should be treated the same, he said, and no one should arbitrarily pick which businesses are essential. It can be safer to go to the jewelry store in Pequot Lakes than to Walmart, he said.

“We need to take a stand, make it loud and clear,” Pederson said.

“We’re not forcing anyone to open,” he added. “We’re not forcing anyone to come out of their homes. We’re saying you can if you want.”

Petersen asked how the city will enforce this if the police department gets calls or Facebook messages. Council member Cheri Seils said if businesses open and don’t follow safety precautions, point them to the chamber website for rules and regulations.

“Hopefully they’ll take time to educate themselves and do it safely,” she said.

May 5 meeting

The Pequot Lakes City Council took steps to provide COVID-19 pandemic relief to its citizens and businesses at its regular meeting Tuesday, May 5, agreeing to:

  • Waive late fees for utility billing customers for March-June, which will cost the city an estimated $1,270.

  • Provide a four-month (March-June) liquor license fee reduction for seven establishments, which will cost the city $3,485 in reduced fees.

Pederson proposed a 10-month reduction in liquor license fees, until the end of the year, saying the city needs to cut spending to help businesses.

“If you talk to the businesses, we’re in trouble down here,” he said.

Reducing these fees for 10 months would result in an estimated $8,700 in reduced fees for the city. Seils suggested approving the four-month reduction and re-evaluating further reductions in June, when liquor licenses come up for annual renewals.

  • Forgive five months of lease payments, totaling $3,875, from the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce for the Pequot Lakes Welcome Center. The chamber is a nonprofit organization; the city owns the chamber building.

Regarding these fee reductions, Pederson said: “I think this is a start to trying to help. There’s more to be done. Our business community needs help. Some of them probably won’t survive this.”

Pederson suggested the city form a task force to work solely with the idea of how the city can provide financial help to businesses after they were forced to close by the governor’s orders. Reducing city costs is just one part, he said, noting Little Falls has a loan/grant fund administered by the EDC to help businesses stay in business.

“I see this as a piece of a bigger help,” he said.

Pederson noted that big box stores are open for business to sell clothing, home furnishings and jewelry, but Pequot Lakes’ shoe store, jewelry store and clothing stores can’t open.

Both the May 5 and May 12 meetings were conducted online via Zoom with Mayor James Tayloe and Seils at city hall with City Administrator Nancy Malecha and City Clerk/Treasurer Angie Duus.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.