Cited repeatedly, Dubuque brewery owner takes stand against city mask mandate

After his business received its third citation for violating the city’s mask mandate, a Dubuque brewery owner declared that he is standing up against “tyranny” and indicated that the establishment will continue its noncompliance.

Police Chief Mark Dalsing on Monday confirmed that 7 Hills Brewing Co., 1085 Washington St., was issued a municipal citation with a $750 fine, plus $85 in court costs, this weekend. Specifically, the business was cited for failure to post face-covering requirements and for not requiring employees to wear face coverings as mandated by the city to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

After learning of the latest citation, 7 Hills owner Keith Gutierrez took to social media to accuse the City Council of abusing its power and declare that the issue would end in a court of law.

Gutierrez told the Telegraph Herald on Monday that 7 Hills will appeal its citations because he believes the city’s actions are “unconstitutional,” and he expects the issue to eventually make its way to the Iowa Supreme Court. He also said he will continue to let employees make their own decisions about wearing masks, noting that about 30% choose to do so and the rest do not.

“I am not anti-mask. I am not pro-mask,” Gutierrez said. “I am pro-freedom-of-choice.”

This weekend’s citation, and the subsequent response from Gutierrez, marked the latest in a series of back-and-forth exchanges between the brewery and the city.

City Council members in early August approved a mandate that went into effect Aug. 8 in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has long insisted that cities and counties do not have the authority to issue such orders. The municipalities with mandates argue that they have the legal standing to do so.

On Monday night, Reynolds instituted a statewide mask mandate.

Since the city’s mandate took effect in Dubuque, there have been just more than 100 complaints about individuals or businesses failing to comply with the order, according to Dalsing. He said only five individual citations and three business citations have been issued since.

7 Hills has been the recipient of all three citations against businesses. Dalsing said 7 Hills also received them on Oct. 21 and Nov. 7, under the same code and with the same penalty.

Dalsing also said Gutierrez himself, as well as three of his staff members, have been issued individual citations for failing to follow the mask policy, accounting for four of the five individual citations issued in the past three months.

“Citing an individual or business is our last choice,” Dalsing said. “We realize some people or businesses want to take the ticket to make a symbolic gesture.”

While Dubuque police have responded to dozens of businesses from which complaints originated, nearly every one of the incidents was resolved after a brief conversation and without the issuance of a citation, he said.

“With the majority of businesses, there is confusion or misunderstanding (about the mandate),” Dalsing said. “At other points, there may be some underlying exception that comes into play. Usually, the case ends at that point.”

Reflecting on the decision to impose the mandate, City Council Member Ric Jones on Monday emphasized that city leaders were using the information at their disposal to make the best decision possible.

“The leading public health experts in the world gave us information we could use to protect people from death, and that information is what led us to enact the mask mandate in Dubuque,” he said. “Our first duty is to protect the citizens that elected us.”

Jones suggested that the gravity of the virus and its local impact are undeniable at this point.

“We just had a 79th death in Dubuque County,” he said. “That is an enormous number for the size of our county.”

In part of his extensive social media post, Gutierrez argued that existing policies in Dubuque have no way of assuring people will remain safe anyway.

In a venue in which eating and drinking is at the core of the consumer experience, patrons are allowed to take off their masks once they are seated. As a result, Gutierrez argued that “when anyone goes out to eat anywhere,” they are assuming some kind of risk.

“People want to paint me as heartless. That is their narrative,” he said. “I see this as a balance of economic health and personal health. A lot of people right now are being driven into bankruptcy.”

Jones said the mask mandate has never been an anti-business proposition. Rather, he framed the rule as a realistic way to ensure that businesses can continue to operate.

He noted that statewide restrictions already forced bars and restaurants to close for roughly two months earlier this year. He said there is a very real possibility that similar edicts could come down in the event that straightforward efforts to mitigate the spread — such as mask-wearing — are not taken.

“We don’t want to see that happen again,” he said. “If you do what (7 Hills) has been doing, you are begging for that to happen.”

The post of Gutierrez’s individual Facebook account — as well as a post on the 7 Hills page offering free beer to health care workers — have elicited hundreds of responses in the past day.

One Dubuque business owner expressed support for the stand taken at 7 Hills and urged residents to support local businesses.

However, the vast majority of replies expressed anger toward the brewery’s stance

Gutierrez said he was not surprised by the feedback.

“It is a risk, obviously,” he said. “I am investing in the power of my employees and the culture that I stand for.”