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‘What is more important: a candy store or worship?’

By Staff | May 17, 2020

Pastor Daren Barnett, at right, speaks to the Winnebago City Council and shares he has concerns about his congregation’s individual freedoms. He, and 24 others, attended the meeting to talk Stay at Home order.

Approximately 25 members of the public attended the Winnebago City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 12, to express their concerns with the ongoing Stay Home order, businesses not being allowed to reopen and churches not being allowed to hold worship services.

The attendees were spread out in the community room in order to practice social distancing.

Upon learning the people were all in attendance for the same reason, mayor Jeremiah Schutt told the crowd he would limit speakers to three minutes to ensure everyone who wanted to speak would have the opportunity to do so.

Pastor Daren Barnett of Winnebago spoke first.

“Domestic cases, alcoholism and suicides are all up and my counseling has tripled,” Barnett told the council. “Businesses are hurting, but some owners are afraid to speak. Without people being able to interact it is causing problems in the community.”

He continued, explaining what he would like to see happening.

“We (our congregation) have a plan in place to split our services so we can practice social distancing,” Barnett said. “I am worried about our individual freedoms.”

Council member Rick Johnson responded.

“I agree with Daren. Social distancing has been preached to everyone and I think most people have been responsible,” Johnson commented. “It seems churches, salons and barbershops are the last ones being allowed to open.”

Council member Jean Anderson spoke next.

“I agree with Daren and Rich but we cannot afford to lose our state funding by going against the governor’s order,” Anderson explained. “We do have to be safe. But, nobody can understand the yellow candy store being allowed to open.”

“If you don’t want to go to the yellow candy store, you don’t go. If you don’t want to go to Menards, you don’t go,” Johnson remarked. “But we are not even being given the choice with going to church.”

Council member Paul Eisenmenger offered his thoughts.

“I do not see why a church cannot be open; it is no different than what we are doing tonight,” Eisenmenger stated. “Worship is important and we should be allowed to worship. I really wish this was over and I had some answers.”

Calvin Howard was the final council member to speak.

“I am surprised the government has exercised this much power,” Howard said. “Do we have the authority to do anything?”

Winnebago city attorney David Frundt was at the meeting and responded to Howard’s question.

“I have not researched this matter but am willing to do so if the council desires,” Frundt remarked. “The courts are delaying a lot of things because of staffing problems related to COVID-19.”

“I wish we knew if we could make a decision without fear of repercussion,” Howard responded.

More members of the public then came forward to speak.

“I am here in support of the idea of getting back to normal(ish),” Doug Hill of Winnebago said. “I think we have some people living in fear and that is not good. There is an economic repercussion occurring that we do not even know the extent of yet.”

MaKayla Nepp of rural Winnebago spoke next.

“From the beginning we shut everyone down. We shut down because we did not have enough stuff. We now have 330 ICU beds available and only 130 are being used,” Nepp commented. “Why do we want to lose the businesses we have? What is going to encourage people to stay or to come to Winnebago if there are no businesses left. We can open and still respect social distancing and we need to reopen our town before there is nothing left to reopen.”

Winnebago resident Bill Erickson offered words of advice to the council.

“I encourage council members to take an attitude of what can we do, not what can’t we do,” Erickson shared. “We can meet safely and we need to continue to look at ways to operate in a safe manner.”

Howard shared his final thoughts on the subject.

“As a representative of the council, I appreciate these people coming forward and speaking to us,” Howard said. “I think attorney Frundt should look into this and we can meet later depending on what the governor announces on Wednesday.”

Schutt offered his thoughts in closing.

“I never wanted to see the churches closed,” Schutt remarked. “I thank you all for speaking and giving us a chance to work with you.”