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COVID Tensions Run High at County Board Meeting

Frustration with the state’s COVID-19 restrictions boiled over at last night’s Houghton County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The fireworks began as commissioners considered endorsing a resolution that would have declared the county as a “sanctuary county” for businesses affected by the COVID-19 mandates, and that the sheriff and prosecutor would have “no desire” to enforce “unconstitutional” mandates.

Commissioner Roy Britz said the language went too far, and included false information… 

“I’ve researched this for over a month now, and all the documentation that I have shows that what the health department is doing is legal, constitutional. I will absolutely vote ‘yes’ on anything that says that we want the businesses open. I can’t support the terminology of this.”

Board chair Albert Koskela then threatened to withhold funding for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, comparing their staff to Nazis…

“…that goes around like a Gestapo agent.”

The board is not legally obligated to support the Health Department; however, the health department is also not legally obligated to provide services to counties that don’t pay.

That concerned commissioner Glen Anderson…

“The Health Department is the key driver of vaccines in Houghton County. If we’re going to hold up funding for the most vital health care provider in Houghton County, to me that’s just – and I’ll be very kind – just poor public policy.”

Britz, who is a law enforcement professional, came to the defense of the health department…

“Someone needs to clarify, and I hope I’m doing that right now, what the Health Department role is, and stop this crap of pushing them around and cutting them down, because they’re doing their jobs. Just like the state police are doing their job, and the sheriffs are doing their jobs, and we’ve got to stop badgering them also. That’s happening county-wide, and I’m tired of it myself.”

Several citizens at the meeting also supported the health department and its employees. Barry Fink spoke on behalf of the Copper Country League of Women Voters…

“The board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country is pleased to express support for the staff of the Western U.P. Health Department for working tirelessly to keep our community safe and informed.”

William Keith shot down the myth that allowing people to pick and choose which businesses they patronize would provide protection…

“We can’t just have some places open and some places not. People are going to go around in this community, and they have contact with their neighbors. And, if some people get sick, then I’m going to mingle with them at a grocery store or a doctor’s office, or some other place I have to go, no matter where I’m choosing not to go.”

And retired District Court Judge Mark Wisti reminded the board that they can pass all the resolutions they want…

“…but they have no effect. You cannot, by resolution, override state law. You cannot, by resolution, tell the sheriff’s department what to do. You just can’t do that.”

Wisti said it’s time to cool off the tempers…

“Commissioner Britz is right. You’ve got people walking with guns in front of the Café Rosetta. For God’s sake, let’s stop this.”

The board eventually approved the funding on a 3-2 vote, with Koskela and commissioner Tom Tikkanen voting against. No vote was taken on the resolution.

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