Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner swears in members of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner swears in members of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Protesters pack council meeting, declare ‘medical liberty’

Attendance at Wednesday’s meeting was reduced to standing-room only.

The Soldotna City Council will have a new face come Oct. 18, when Dan Nelson takes his seat on the body. Nelson, the former head of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, was one of three candidates to be successfully elected to the council during the Oct. 5 municipal election, which produced two wins for council incumbents. Candidates were sworn in by Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner during Wednesday’s city council meeting, where the results of the municipal election were also certified.

Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings ran unopposed for Seat A on the council, to which she was appointed in December 2020. Jordan Chilson successfully ran for reelection to Seat B on the council after pulling ahead of his opponent Micah Shields. Nelson was elected to Seat C on the council after securing more votes than his opponent Erick Hugarte, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year.

Attendance at Wednesday’s meeting was reduced to standing-room only due to the number of people in the audience who gathered to protest health mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Demonstrators holding signs that read things like “Fear = Control” and “No Forced Jab” gathered outside Soldotna City Hall ahead of the meeting and filled audience seating in the city council chambers for the duration of the meeting.

A man who identified himself as “Garrett” from Kenai, said in testimony before the council that the demonstrators showed up to voice their opposition to COVID-19 mandates, including mask and vaccine policies, and read from a “Citizens Declaration of Medical Liberty.”

Jason Floyd, who owns Ammo-Can Coffee Social Club in Soldotna, similarly testified in opposition to COVID-related mandates and suggested there is a financial gain for people who promote certain COVID mitigation measures.

“If you listen to the loudest voices calling for masking and mandates, it’s those people who got paid,” Floyd said.

Masks are currently required in the City of Soldotna’s indoor spaces, per legislation approved by the city council in August. Efforts to institute a citywide mask requirement in Soldotna by some council members at the end of 2020 resulted in hours of public testimony and over 500 pages of public comment, with the legislation ultimately voted down before it could be introduced. Most audience members were not wearing masks during Wednesday’s meetings.

Passed by the council Wednesday was a resolution commending Central Peninsula Hospital for its work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the “heroic and selfless services” of health care workers.

“Central Peninsula Hospital healthcare professionals have exhibited boundless compassion, courage, and commitment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic despite immense stress, fatigue and physical strain,” the legislation says.

At least four members of law enforcement were in attendance at the beginning of the council’s meeting, but Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said Thursday their presence was unrelated to the demonstrators and in response to a presentation concerning the Soldotna Police Department.

Wednesday’s full meeting of the Soldotna City Council can be viewed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Jason Floyd testifies in opposition to COVID-19 mandates during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Jason Floyd testifies in opposition to COVID-19 mandates during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Audience members hold signs protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Audience members hold signs protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Demonstrators gather outside of Soldotna City Hall to protest COVID-19 mandates on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Demonstrators gather outside of Soldotna City Hall to protest COVID-19 mandates on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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