Waukon City Councilman John Ellingson, Mayor Pat Stone offer explanations for decisions made regarding St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade scheduled for Sunday, March 15 in Waukon ended up resulting in much more than its usual show of Irish spirit. Just over an hour before the parade was scheduled to begin, the Waukon City Council met in an emergency session that took some time to arrange due to open meetings quorum requirements and made the unanimous decision to revoke the parade permit based on recommendations for large gatherings made by the Iowa Governor’s Office and the Iowa Department of Public Health following the announcement late Saturday evening, March 14 that the first case had been reported in Iowa of COVID-19 due to community spread - meaning not knowing the origin and not attributable to travel as were the previous 17 cases in Iowa.

Waukon City Councilman John Ellingson provided the following statement in regard to the Waukon City Council’s actions in respect to revoking the parade permit:

“Sunday morning (March 15) around 9 a.m. I became aware of (Iowa) Governor Kim Reynolds’ press conference which occurred at 8:30 p.m. the previous night regarding the first community spread COVID-19 case. I then watched her news conference in its entirety and then I read the press release from her office and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Their call for action stated: ‘Mitigation measures should be implemented immediately to have the most significant impact on slowing the spread of the virus. Leaders of institutions and organizers of events should begin to act on their contingency plans related to large gatherings, including church services. Iowans should not hold or attend large gatherings of more than 250 people, and consider making adjustments for smaller gatherings with high risk groups’.

“I had been monitoring the Governor’s office and press releases all week. I was prepared to follow their lead. At 10 a.m., when it was apparent an emergency was not going to be declared by our mayor and action was not going to be taken, the council members unanimously called a meeting and a discussion of the matter took place. The 5-0 vote rescinded the permit for the parade and any City support of the event.”

Waukon Mayor Pat Stone said he was also not aware of Governor Reynolds’ recommendations for large gatherings until the following Sunday morning when the emergency meeting was called. He said no other council member, City official or resident had contacted him following the Governor’s large gathering recommendation announcement, and therefore, did not realize there was such a concern until he was notified of the meeting.

Despite the revocation of the parade permit, the numerous parade entries (approximately 75 in all) that had already gathered for the parade made the trek along the route at the scheduled time. Councilman Ellingson explained that the Waukon Police Chief was ordered by Waukon Mayor Pat Stone to provide traffic control in the interest of overall public safety.

Ellingson further added: “Those who held their own parade did so upon their own assessment of the facts and statement of the President, Governor, City Council and epidemiologist recommendations. I view the City’s first responsibility to its citizens as their safety. We will never know if we will save one single person from this decision - but we could not risk possibly contributing to the illness, injury or death of an infant, elder, friend or neighbor.

“Do not think this decision was made lightly or without the knowledge of a few people’s loud reactions. Someone had to make this decision and I’m proud of the councilmen I serve with and the fortitude they show not only on this issue but others.”

Mayor Stone said he took action to allow the assembled parade entries to follow the parade route before disbursing, feeling that was a better plan of action than just forcing all the parade entries to disburse on their own. “In my opinion, that would have been chaos, having vehicles, animals and other entries heading every which way,”

Mayor Stone shared. “I didn’t see any council members there trying to help remedy the situation after they made the decision to revoke the permit, so I took what I thought was the best plan of action.”

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