Rod Tappe

The coronavirus pandemic hit home for Union Mayor Rod Tappe.

His wife, Debra Tappe, learned she had COVID-19 March 13 and decided to quarantine for 14 days at the Villages of St. Peters assisted-living facility, where she is director of nursing. They think she got the coronavirus from a co-worker she drove home.

Since Rod Tappe has diabetes, staying together was out of the question. “I sat home with the dog, thinking, ‘Am I going to see my wife again?’ ” the mayor said.

Still, Tappe said he brought an open mind to the issue of requiring face masks in Union. He spearheaded a proposed ordinance that would have required face masks be worn in many public places in Union, both government and privately owned offices.

The debate reached its pinnacle Monday, July 20, when hundreds of people attended a special board of aldermen meeting, where Tappe’s proposed ordinance died after none of the aldermen made a motion to discuss it.

“It’s all about the love of my town, and the voice of all the people, not just a few,” said Tappe, who only votes if the board is tied.

The issue could be discussed at future meetings, he said. “I guess it depends on how many more people really want it compared to how the numbers rise,” he said. “When it dies on the floor, there’s always a possibility of it being brought back.”

Other options, he said, include having a mask policy just for city buildings. At Union’s new city hall, there’s some protections already in place as customers can only access lobbies, where they speak to city employees behind glass.

Tappe was the only elected official to speak at the meeting. Though he said some mask supporters were in attendance, the large majority appeared to be opponents of mask mandates who did not wear masks, with many holding signs and not social distancing.

Tappe said all the mask-related calls he received before the meeting was announced favored an ordinance. He said many of the callers he heard from leading up to the meeting weren’t aware that the decision on masks could be made by the full board, and they could also call their individual aldermen on the issue.

It’s likely that those who favor mask requirements are less likely to attend a crowded meeting. A national Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, released Thursday, showed 75 percent of respondents, including 58 percent of Republicans, want restrictions requiring face masks to be worn around others outside the home.

Ordinance Opponents

Kimberly Lowe and Brian Nieves, organizers with Missourians Against Mandatory Masking, spoke with a city official at the door to city hall before the meeting and led the group into the city hall gymnasium, according to Lowe.

She said the city official told her that the room was full and only she and Nieves could enter.

“I said, ‘I’m just a Union citizen, these people need to have their voices heard too,’ ” Lowe said Thursday. “They showed up at a public meeting and have a right to be heard, just like I do.”

The city official started “spouting off and walked away,” Lowe said. Then the mask ordinance opponents started walking in. Lowe would have been willing to negotiate, including having audience members rotate coming in, she said.

“It was not a forced entry,” Lowe said.  “If they had a true concern about that many people in the building, then they would have negotiated a deal.”

As mask ordinance opponents rallied outside before coming in, city officials added chairs in the city hall gymnasium, saying they wanted enough for 50 people, well above the smattering of attendees at a typical meeting. Many of those seats were full when people started entering after the rally, so rally-goers lined the walls of the gym.

With Washington now considering a mask ordinance, Lowe, a registered nurse who owns small businesses in Washington, said her group would continue to fight the proposals.

“I was concerned this would start in Union and move to Washington, and my business would have it mandated to them,” she said. “That should be up to the business.”

Tappe said he saw positives out of the mask discussion, including more awareness about the issue. “I think that’s a good thing.”