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Council member Mary "Beth" Hessler to propose overturning the City of Bethel's vaccine mandate

Mary "Beth" Hessler swearing in
Olivia Ebertz
New council member Mary "Beth" Hessler swears into the Bethel City Council.

During the Jan. 11 Bethel City Council meeting, the council is set to decide whether to vote to accept changes to the city’s personnel policy towards unvaccinated individuals. Plus, the pandemic has changed the way people can make public comments in the meetings. The council could vote to make some of those changes permanent.

On the agenda are a couple of changes to the City of Bethel’s personnel policy sponsored by councilmember Mary "Beth" Hessler. The first is a piece of legislation that would require the Bethel City Manager to change the city’s policy towards unvaccinated workers. In September 2021, the city mandated that all city employees, contractors, and volunteers must be fully vaccinated. This resulted in the termination of five out of the city’s 105 employees.

The rollout of this vaccine mandate was widely publicized. Around the same time, Hessler ran for council. She campaigned against vaccination mandates for city employees and won her seat. She’s now the only unvaccinated council member, and the only council member to vote against the city’s COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Hessler said that she wants the city to be able to hire unvaccinated workers, citing a shortage of city workers.

Bethel City Manager Pete Williams said that the city’s worker shortage has been around for a long time and doesn’t have anything to do with the city’s vaccine mandates.

“I've been working for the city since 2004. We've always been short workers,” said Williams.

Hessler also said that being vaccinated or unvaccinated should be a personal choice that doesn’t affect the workers’ employment status.

“I feel like it should be people should be allowed to make their choices like they do when they have the flu. I think that common sense is going to show you when you're sick, you do take care of yourself, you don't just go out and about. If you had the flu, you wouldn't be out and about naturally. Though I know there's been greater sickness with COVID, you don't have to make a law about it,” said Hessler.

The World Health Organization says that both symptomatic and asymptomatic people can pass the virus to others.

Vice Mayor Conrad “CJ” McCormick said that he’s conflicted about whether to revoke the city’s vaccine mandate for employees.

“I think ultimately, just from a moral standpoint, if I know that we as a city were responsible for somebody getting COVID. And any of the the potential, you know, really lifelong implications that they might have from that if they lose their life or have long COVID the rest of their life. I don't want us to be responsible for that,” said McCormick.

McCormick said that he hasn’t made up his mind yet on which way he will vote, though he’s leaning in favor of upholding the mandate.

“This isn't an easy decision for me. I hate having to fire anyone. I don't want to take anyone's job away,” said McCormick.

He said that his decision will come down to the public comments people make during the Jan. 11 meeting.

Hessler is also proposing an ordinance that would limit the Bethel City Manager’s ability to change personnel policy. Williams instated the employee vaccine mandate that resulted in the firing of city employees. He did not have to consult city council on this policy change.

Under the proposed changes, the manager would have to get approval from the Bethel City Council before making policy changes that could affect a worker’s employment status.

Also during the Jan. 11 meeting, the council could vote to make some recent changes to the public comment section of the meeting permanent

Since the onset of the pandemic, the council has adopted remote ways to join council meetings and make public comments. Now, in addition to signing up in person for the public comment period known as "People to Be Heard," you can also sign up and voice your comments via Zoom or the telephone. You can also submit your comments via email to the city clerk at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

The proposal would make these changes to the public comment process permanent.

The Jan. 11 meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. As always, KYUK will broadcast the city council meeting live on 640 AM. You can click here to join the meeting.

Olivia Ebertz is a News Reporter for KYUK. She also works as a documentary filmmaker. She enjoys learning languages, making carbs, and watching movies.
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