Doing so would jeopardize citizen health, liability coverage, mayor says

The City of Burlington will not be joining a protest planned for Saturday urging Gov. Tony Evers to loosen coronavirus restrictions on local businesses.

Mayor Jeannie Hefty

Mayor Jeannie Hefty said Thursday in a statement the city will continue to follow the governor’s orders, but respects the rights of others to protest the current situation.

“Although we fully understand the concerns leading to the upcoming event, the City of Burlington will not be participating in this planned peaceful protest,” Hefty said. “We do respectfully ask that persons attending this event adhere to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control for appropriate social distancing and the use of protective masks.”

According to city officials the protest is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Echo Park in downtown Burlington as part of a “Re-open Burlington” campaign.

Hefty said the city’s police department will be on standby “to assist the organizers of this event” as needed.

“As your mayor, I want to open Burlington as soon as possible, and I recognize the financial struggle that the citizens and the businesses in our community are going through,” Hefty said.

However, she said, the health and safety of the city’s residents are her primary concern and as such the city will adhere to the current guidelines outlined by the governor in his “Badger Bounce Back” plan. Hefty specifically mentioned the need for additional COVID-19 testing capacity and the lack of a cure or vaccine as among her greatest concerns.

She also said that, according to City Attorney John Bjelajac, failure to adhere to the state’s order could open the city greater legal liability and the possibility of diminished or canceled liability insurance.

“To do otherwise would make the City of Burlington an effectively required defendant in future litigation brought by COVID-19 victims,” Hefty said, referring to the city attorney’s opinion.

According to the mayor the city will continue to work with county and state officials on developing strategies for opening the local economy “safely and responsibly.”