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Are Crowded Bars a Nuisance During a Pandemic?

Mayor Paul TenHaken expressed disapproval last night of the patrons he saw packing the parking lots of a couple Sioux Falls bars last night:

Paul TenHaken, tweet, 2020.03.21
Mayor Paul TenHaken, tweet, 2020.03.21.

I agree with Mayor TenHaken. Going to a bar exemplifies the kind of nonessential, risky, and, frankly, selfish behavior that undermines the anti-pandemic effects of the sacrifices lots of other South Dakotans are making.

Sioux Falls doctor Brian Brennan replied to Mayor TenHaken’s tweet with a pretty clear recommendation that the Mayor order the bars to close. Mayor Tenhaken replied, “There are many assumptions that the mayor has unlimited authority. Every state/city has different laws and ordinances that govern them. I will continue to lead to the furthest extent of my ability under law.”

I would suggest that the health and sanitation ordinances of the Queen City of the East authorize the city to shut down public health hazards:

§ 92.070 PROHIBITED.

No person shall create, commit, maintain or permit to be created, committed or maintained any nuisance within the city.


Whatever is or imminently may become hazardous or dangerous to human health, whatever renders the ground, the water, the air, or food a hazard or an injury to human health, or whatever annoys, injures, or endangers the health, comfort, or safety of others… are, each and all of them, hereby declared to constitute nuisances….


When there exists on private property a condition which has been determined a nuisance by a city enforcement employee, a notice will be served in the matter specified in § 92.072. The notice will describe the matter to be removed or corrected and require removal or correction thereof within 14 days. The city health officer may shorten the timeframe for removal or correction if the health officer determines the nuisance item(s) presents a significant risk to the public health if not removed or corrected in less than 14 days. If the city health officer determines a shortened timeframe is appropriate in a particular case, the shortened timeframe shall be set forth in the notice. Any additional nuisance conditions not previously observed, or that may have been added to the property after the city’s inspection(s), must also be removed or corrected within the timeframe specified in the notice of violation. If at the end of the 14 days, or less as set forth in the notice, the nuisance has not been removed or corrected, the city shall have authority to cause the correction or removal and disposition. All costs incurred by the city for the removal and disposition of the nuisance or for correcting the nuisance shall be assessed, levied and collected as a special assessment payable in one sum or by up to five equal annual installments as the city council may provide against the premises from which it was removed, in the manner provided by law for the levy and collection of other special assessments [emphasis added; Sioux Falls City Code, retrieved 2020.03.22].

Governor Kristi Noem has declared a statewide state of emergency to stop the coronavirus pandemic, and the CDC has recommended that communities with minimal or moderate spread of covid-19 cancel all gatherings of ten or more people for the next couple weeks. Minnehaha County is one of only two counties in South Dakota that has reported multiple cases of covid-19 (five in Minnehaha, ten in Beadle). If Sioux Falls residents are too thirsty or too dumb to pause their barhopping for a couple weeks to help prevent thousands of South Dakotans from getting sick and overwhelming our healthcare infrastructure, Mayor TenHaken could make a solid legal case for shutting down the public health threat those barhoppers pose to all of us.


  1. MD 2020-03-22

    The (R) governor of ND has repeatedly brought up that we do not know the full extent of this illness because we do not have good data to make informed decisions.

    South Dakota has done half the tests of ND.

    We have closed our bars and restaurants since earlier this week and expect to continue to do so until we have sufficient data to make an informed decision about social distancing.

    Kristi Noem talked to our governor today. You’d think some of his wisdom would rub off on her.
    I give our governor credit, I think he got a lot of great decision making skill working as an executive at Microsoft, education far beyond sticking to the party talking points. I fear Kristi’s leadership is no more than a list of talking points and she is in too deep.

  2. Jason 2020-03-22

    shut down the bars

  3. jerry 2020-03-22

    Nick Lowrey at South Dakota News Watch has a very good post up. Check it out and also check out the comment section. Once again, why won’t they just tell us the truth so we know how bad this really is. We’re not exceptional and we’ve been led to believe by the lies, that we are. We need to sober the hell up and pay attention by keeping apart for starters. For that we need leadership or else we wander off like farm animals.

  4. Scott 2020-03-22

    Non-essential businesses need to be closed. It sucks for the businesses, but it is what has to happen to get control. Bars, casinos, bowling alleys, gyms etc all fall into that category.

    Eating places need to shut down their dining rooms and go carry out, drive thru or delivery.

    I think we also need to try and get all these young people who are out of school from congregating together. I’m not totally sure how you do this, but there must be a way. Hopefully schools get there online learning programs going so these young people have something to do. It is not their fault, but group gatherings are not what we need at this time.

    9 Rapid City doctors penned their name to this letter to the editor.

  5. Debbo 2020-03-22

    Unbefreakinglievable that public spaces are still open. Yes, a closure order will be unpopular among some sects. So what? Everything is closed here in Minnesota and there are some very peeved people. Since when has that been a reason to avoid taking necessary actions to save lives?

    Here’s the choice for lawmakers on all levels- focus on saving lives or winning elections. We’ve seen which way the GOP is going and few things more clearly point up moral absence.

    BTW, saving lives will probably lead to winning elections if the politician has any faith at all in her electorate. We can see what Klueless Kristi thinks of South Dakotans.

  6. Donald Pay 2020-03-22

    Really, really stupid people live in South Dakota. I can’t tell who is dumber, the leaders or the drunks. The mayors need to close those places. Pretty soon some of those stupid people will die and the average IQ in the state will go a few points. Unfortunately, they may also carry the virus to the smart people.

    Madison, WI, is often on the top of the list as the best party city in the country. Our mayor closed all the bars and restaurants and most other businesses. Restaurants can do deliveries, and that business seems to be doing fairly well.

  7. Jeff Barth 2020-03-22

    I emailed John Thune this message tonight:

    Forget about the perfect Bill to help Americans. Pass a good bill to keep average Americans fed and housed. Boeing and Delta will still be there next week. Don’t use real people as hostages for ransom to pay for corporate greed. Do that next week.

  8. jerry 2020-03-22

    Rapid City Council votes to proceed on business closures for coronavirus

  9. Debbo 2020-03-22

    Good letter Mr. Barth.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-23

    Mayor TenHaken points to ordinances that allow him to call emergency meetings and waive competitive-bidding requirements but suggests that he lacks the broader powers of mayors in other cities.

    But as I listen to his Sunday release, the Mayor says he would prefer that the state take action. He says he can recommend that the city Board of Health take action and says the Board of Health has quite a bit of power to act. He says Sanford and Avera doctors are saying Sioux Falls is not at the point that requires business closures but that the data could change within days.

    The city Board of Health is meeting Tuesday to discuss mandatory closures of non-essential businesses. TenHaken sounds keenly interested in making sure everyone understands that he isn’t making any “heavy-handed” decision by himself. He also emphasizes that a bar closure in Sioux Falls would lead to the bars in Tea and other adjoining areas doing big business.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-23

    Noem and TenHaken both are pussyfooting around, trying to avoid the plain meaning of statute and ordinance that empowers both of them to shut down bars and other public health hazards, hoping the mantle of heavy-handedness can fall on someone else.

  12. Hank 2020-03-23

    If Sioux Falls closes bars, the Lincoln county and other Minnehaha county bars will explode with patrons. Those county commissioners in (Lincoln and Minnehaha) need to take this up and act now. The governor put this at their feet, they need to not step over it.

  13. jerry 2020-03-23

    As Hong Kong has shut down it’s thousand of bars, with all the turmoil there, shouldn’t be a problem for a political and a practical closing in Sioux Falls and it’s surrounding county’s. In fact, a real show of solidarity would be for the bars and restaurants to voluntarily shut down, showing real leadership.

    “Hong Kong will close its border on all foreign tourists and transit arrivals to the city from Wednesday and propose a ban on the sale of alcohol at more than 8,000 bars and restaurants to contain the spread of the coronavirus, after a sudden spike in cases – most of them imported – threatened to derail its anti-epidemic efforts.”

  14. Timothy Even 2020-03-23

    This is a national and world wide problem, the president should lead and close non-essential business! In his absence it has fallen to governors, mayors, we are seeing who is willing to fill this vacuum and lead. Sadly it’s nobody in SD. I never dreamed that I would say this but gov. Janklow would make decisions and not wait and see like we’re doing now.

  15. MD 2020-03-23

    I listened to Kristi Noem’s press conference today and it is embarrassing the hostile tone she takes with media. Lots of empty talking points and no specifics.
    She is focusing on personal responsibility, and we have demonstrated that has not worked. She is the one that needs to be taking action right now, and she is kicking the can down the road and blaming others.

    Face the Nation had a great piece on leadership in a crisis yesterday which should be a blueprint for what Gov. Noem should be doing.
    “Leadership is not about blowing a trumpet, but sounding a call that people hear and respond to. It is the difference between a locker room speech and locker room talk.”

  16. Debbo 2020-03-23

    It is shameful the way pseudo leaders in SD are actually cowering from their role. So bars in Tea and Harrisburg would be packed. So what? They’re not Ten Haken’s problem. SF bars are. BTW, has he been talking with area mayors? I’d think SF would have a bit of influence with the county commission. Is he pushing them to close? Or trying to push off responsibility onto them?

    Very sadly, Minnesota’s Lt. Gov. Flannagan’s brother just died of COVID-19 and our leader, who’s a Real Leader, Gov. Walz, has tested positive. He’s self isolating at home, but continuing to run the show.

  17. Moses6 2020-03-23

    Noem has not handled this well .What did you expect from her, its quite obvious this is not Meth, right were on it.Would it not be great to have a leader like Walz from Minnesota.

  18. jerry 2020-03-23

    That last was good Moses6. Indeed when will we see the advertisements of Covid-19, We’re on it, plastered all over the disregarded billboards that cost thousands. Those thousands, BTW, that could’ve been used for medical bills for those who have taken sick from this pandemic.

  19. clara Hart 2020-03-23

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells citizens to stay at home. People found outside will be fined.
    For further details, please google UK, Prime Minister’s message 3/23/2020.

    Coronavirus report from the Sub-Saharan region
    Mozambique, one person died from the virus. He was a 70 year old male, identified as a British National.

  20. jerry 2020-03-23

    Yes, Ms. Hart, ol’ Boris has seen the light…a month late, but still. We are in for a rough haul here, just to protect the billionaire class.

  21. Clyde 2020-03-24

    Such nonsense! There is nothing better to take the edge off a high fever than a couple of stiff drinks!

    This is South Dakota. Their fearless leader said the virus is a “Hoax”. They sure as H aren’t going to worry about it.

    A couple of weeks ago a young fellow I was dealing with’s main concern is that they would blame Trump for the virus.

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