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Waukee man sues over city mask mandate, claiming it stops him from traveling freely

Shelby Fleig
Des Moines Register

A Waukee man is suing the mayor and police chief over a mask mandate scheduled to go into effect Friday. 

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Lynn M. Hakenson sued the city of Waukee, Mayor Courtney Clarke and Police Chief John Quinn, and is asking a judge to determine whether the mandate can be legally enforced.

The suit alleges that the mandate "inhibits and injures the ability of Hakenson to freely travel through the city limits of Waukee for personal, business, civic, and religious purposes."

Clarke signed a proclamation on Monday creating the new rule, with some exemptions, citing recent recommendations by the White House to require face coverings and close bars.

The Waukee Police Department plans to enforce the proclamation by approaching anyone not wearing a mask where it is required, informing them of the rule and giving them a free mask, the city's website says. Those who don't qualify for certain exemptions and do not comply could get a $15 fine, which will increase to $20 after 30 days of non-payment.

Waukee Mayor Courtney Clarke shown here with her daughter, challenges Waukee residents to remain vigilant in the COVID-19 environment.

Exemptions include those younger than 2, with trouble breathing or using oxygen therapy, with a note from a legal or health professional, driving alone or with family members, eating and drinking at a restaurant or bar and with religious beliefs that would be violated by wearing a mask, among others.

Like in Des Moines, public safety officials won't be required, but are recommended, to wear masks when possible.

Reynolds, backed by Attorney General Tom Miller, has said cities and counties lack the authority to enact their own mask mandates that go beyond the provisions she has included in her own coronavirus emergency proclamation.

The Waukee lawsuit says that Hakenson is in good health and can decide for himself when and where to wear a mask based on his own risk assessment.

"He does not want to be stopped and questioned by law enforcement officers if he travels without a mask in the city limits of Waukee," it says. "The requirements and exceptions of the proclamation are essentially impossible for a law enforcement officer to enforce in a way which is not arbitrary and capricious. This deters Hakenson from being able to freely travel in the city limits of Waukee."

More:White House: Iowa mask mandate could help quell deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes

Alan Ostergren, Hakenson's attorney, noted that while many Iowa cities have proclamations that require masks in public areas, most are not being enforced. In Des Moines, Mayor Frank Cownie says violators of his proclamation will not be fined.

"Legally, if there's no penalty provided in the ordinance, it would be difficult to challenge in court," Ostergren told the Register. "But when there is a penalty, then we have a means to go to court and ask a judge to find that this proclamation is not enforceable."

Ostergren also said Hakenson supports the police but thinks the mandate is a "no-win situation."

"I think it puts the police in a very difficult situation because they're being asked to enforce something which is so vague," he said. "It puts them in a no-win situation. It's not good for anyone."

Waukee Mayor Courtney Clarke and Police Chief John Quinn both said they could not comment on pending litigation. 

Shelby Fleig covers Des Moines city government for the Register. Reach her at shelbyfleig@dmreg.com or 515-214-8933.

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