ELKHART — The mayors of Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee will each bring a city ordinance to their councils that will support the countywide restrictions and penalties related to COVID-19.
City councils in the three cities will meet Monday to discuss the proposed ordinances in support of the county’s efforts, officials announced Thursday. The city ordinances will last for the duration of the public health orders, if passed.
The ordinances, which recognize and support the adoption of Elkhart County’s Public Health Orders 05-2020 and 06-2020, as well as Restated County Ordinance 2020-38, authorize the mayors to designate enforcement teams to help implement the terms of the county ordinance within each city’s boundaries.
On Tuesday, the Elkhart County Commissioners passed Ordinance 2020-38, outlining a countywide incremental fine structure for businesses and individuals who violate the Health Department’s new pandemic guidelines.
“We all want to emphasize that these measures have been put in place to cultivate an understanding of how this pandemic is affecting those who live in our county and the ways we can help get rid of the virus from our community,” Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson said. “Our focus is to be helpful and informative, not punitive.”
The county ordinance notes that businesses found to be in violation of the health orders will be given a written warning, along with informational resources to correct the issue. Elected officials hope that through this incremental fine structure, businesses and residents alike will learn more about how the pandemic has affected Elkhart County and surrounding areas.
“We are concerned for the safety and well-being of our residents, and so we’ve worked hard to find ways to slow the impact of the pandemic in our communities,” Nappanee Mayor Phil Jenkins said. “Our hope is the residents in our cities and towns will step up and take personal responsibility through their actions to help keep their families, friends and neighbors safe.”
The new protocols are the product of a joint effort between all the city and county offices within Elkhart County.
“I am grateful for my colleagues and for the work we have achieved in the weeks leading to the county ordinance and theses city ordinances,” Goshen Mayor Stutsman said. “Our communities have come together as one voice, regardless of political affiliation, to help slow the spread of this pandemic.”
Sheriff won’t enforce
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office was never going to be involved in enforcing local public health orders related to the coronavirus, but Sheriff Jeff Siegel issued a statement Thursday saying his officers will not enforce the orders.
“I do have concerns with the enforcement portion of this ordinance and the impact it may have on our citizens. Due to these concerns, enforcement of this ordinance will be left to the officials who are charged with its enforcement. My officers will not take part in the direct enforcement of the ordinance,” the sheriff said.
Additionally, Siegel is instructing his officers to take “extreme caution” when responding to any potential disturbances related to the enforcement of this ordinance and actions they may need to take.
A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office later said in an email that the announcement was in response to “numerous constituents seeking clarification regarding the sheriff’s stance on this issue.”
The sheriff encourages everyone to wear a mask when in public and follow other guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help mitigate exposures and reduce hospitalizations, his statement said.
“My hope would be that each one of us recognize the issues facing our community and take any practical actions that could help protect our fellow citizens. If we all do our part, we can render this ordinance irrelevant,” he said.
Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz confirmed Thursday, as did County Commissioner Suzie Weirick, that the Sheriff’s Office was not expected to be involved in enforcement. The health officer said county employees, including some from the Health Department, will be behind the enforcement in the unincorporated portions of the county, while the cities will take responsibility for enforcement in their areas, except in restaurants.
In July, when Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statewide mask order that initially suggested enforcement with fines, Siegel said his department would not participate in enforcement.
“My stance is the same now as it was when the county mandated masks. This is not enforceable much like the previous mandate by the (Elkhart County) health officer. My officers have not and will not enforce this,” Siegel wrote in July.
No COVID-19-related restrictions covering Elkhart County calls for fines for individuals who fail to comply.