Speedway among gatherings tribe warns to avoid

Health department never approved races or Shawano County Fair
Tim Ryan

Public health officials continue to warn against large gatherings in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has taken that guidance a step further with a plea for the public to avoid specific activities and events.

Dr. Amy Slagle, the tribe’s COVID-19 incident commander, issued a statement Saturday imploring the public to “stay out of restaurants, bars, flea markets, races, parties and gatherings.”

The Shawano-Menominee Counties Health Department issued guidance in May recommending against large gatherings in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

The department reiterated that guidance in a press release Tuesday but did not go as far as warning against specific events or activities.

“As of right now, it is not recommended to have community events and gatherings,” the press release stated.

However, Shawano-Menominee Counties Health Officer Vicki Dantoin said in an interview that she agrees with the more specific recommendations suggested by Slagle.

“I agree wholeheartedly with what she’s saying,” Dantoin said. “I agree people shouldn’t be doing some of the stuff that’s going on.”

That includes Slagle’s apparent reference to the Shawano Speedway races, which, Dantoin said, never had the health department’s seal of approval to open.

The speedway did not require the health department’s approval. The department only has the power to make recommendations.

“I never really said it was OK,” Dantoin said. “They had some ideas for how they were going to keep people safe and that’s what I commended, so they took that as this was fine for us to do this. I never flat-out said that.”

The Shawano Area Agricultural Society took that as a green light to go ahead with this year’s county fair, according to agricultural president Dale Hodkiewicz, even though the health department had never been consulted.

“We talked with the health department on the races already, so we’re confident we can go forward,” Hodkiewicz said in an interview on June 19 announcing the Shawano County Fair would go forward.

That decision is entirely up to the agricultural society, which is not a part of Shawano County government.

An estimated 68,000 attendees visited the Shawano County Fair last year.

“A lot of folks are nervous about it, as am I,” Dantoin said.

As of Tuesday, 53 of Wisconsin’s 75 state, county and district fairs have canceled, modified or postponed their events for the 2020 fair season.

“We don’t really have the ability to stop anything at this point,” Dantoin said. “We can put orders out, but we have to be able to enforce those orders, and in order to enforce the orders, the county has to have ordinances or resolutions to allow that. We don’t have that here yet.”

County Administrative Coordinator Brent Miller confirmed that there is nothing on the books in Shawano County that gives the health department any authority to rule on what events or activities can or can’t be held.

“We’re one of about 68 counties in the state that have that, too,” he said.

Miller said the Wisconsin Counties Association is in the process of working with attorneys and health officials to draft a generic ordinance for each county to review and tweak for each county’s needs that would address that issue.

Miller said there was no timeline for when such an ordinance could be brought forward.

In the meantime, Dantoin said, her hands are tied as far as being able to enforce any public health orders.

“I can put out an order but I can’t enforce it,” she said. “That’s the struggle for many counties. We’re not the only county in that predicament.”

Dantoin said the health department is also concerned about plans for the Shawano County Board to take up a proposed ordinance at its July 22 meeting establishing the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary.

Judging by the turnout at the committee level when that ordinance was discussed, the meeting could easily attract upwards of 100 attendees, well above what the health department would consider a large gathering.

County Board Chairman Tom Kautza announced his intention to have that on the July 22 agenda at the board’s meeting last month.

Miller said he didn’t know whether that was still the plan but said it would be Kautza’s decision.

He said the Department of Administration did share its opinion with Kautza, but Miller would not make that opinion public.

Dantoin said Kautza has not contacted her for the health department’s recommendation.

However, she said, “I would tell him it’s not a good idea.”

Kautza could not be reached for comment by press time.



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