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Milwaukee’s mask mandate sword

By M.D. Kittle

Milwaukee was unmasked again last week.

Its liberal city leaders put in place an unpopular mask order that even they acknowledge is toothless tiger, at least until it comes to licensing time. What it does do is further complicate the lives of Milwaukee businesses under the pretense of public safety in a crime-ridden city that just posted another record year of homicides.

“I signed Milwaukee’s mask ordinance this morning which will take effect once it is published in the coming days. Public safety is my paramount concern, and, during the current surge in COVID-19 cases, masking is one reasonable mitigation step,” said Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson. Johnson is one of several candidates (most lefter than the next) running to replace longtime Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett. Trolley Tom, of course, has fled Milwaukee for the greener pastures of a Luxembourg ambassadorship.

If public safety is Johnson’s paramount concern then Milwaukee is in worse shape than it appears — and Wisconsin’s largest city looks to be in terrible shape. Johnson, who also is president of the Milwaukee Common Council, has led a city government that has moved to defund police as 197 people were murdered in Milwaukee last year.

But this same group insists it will protect the public from a relentless virus through a mask mandate. Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson has said she has no intention of enforcing the mandate as strictly as the department did last time around when COVID cops harshly fined businesses.

City officials at least want to have the appearance that they’re not COVID mitigation tyrants.

“They’ve already said they recommend people wear masks, now they’re saying they really, really recommend it,” said Council member Robert Bauman at a council meeting last week.

Instead of issuing fines, violations could be held against business during license renewal. Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) President Tim Sheehy told Biz Times last week that the prospect is even “more chilling.” It’s the public health equivalent of the Sword of Damocles.

“It comes with a threat that at some point the council could revoke your license to operate,” Sheehy said. “So, instead of a $500 or $5,000 fine, based on some arbitrary finding by the council, you could have your license to operate your business revoked.”

He added that the mask mandate hits businesses already struggling with worker shortages and other economic issues.

“… (W)e’re trying to address a public health concern on the backs of a very narrow number of businesses that are dealing with the public that are already trying to do the best thing to keep their employees safe and to keep their customers safe,” Sheehy told the publication.  “Now this is an added burden with the threat of having their license revoked under conditions that aren’t clear, because the council wasn’t clear.”

So Milwaukee city officials are poised to beat the hell out of businesses while they allow criminals to beat the hell out of everyone else.

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