Candidates grade Moscow’s pandemic response

In this image taken from a screen grab of Wednesday’s Moscow Chamber of Commerce online candidate forum, moderator Paul Kimmell, center-top, asks questions of candidates for city council. Candidates participating were, clockwise from top, right, Steve Harmon, Gina Taruscio, Hailey Lewis, Julia Parker, Jason Stooks and, center, Kyrk Taylor.

MOSCOW — Six of the eight Moscow City Council candidates Wednesday shared differing opinions when grading how the city supported its businesses over the past 18 months, in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Julia Parker, Steve Harmon, Gina Taruscio, Jason Stooks, Kyrk Taylor and Hailey Lewis participated in a forum Wednesday hosted by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce. Melissa Cline did not participate and Shaun Darveshi was not available because of a family emergency.

The candidates and moderator Paul Kimmell each appeared via video in a Zoom call. The election is Nov. 2.

Kimmell asked if they felt the city played a role in supporting the business community through the past year and a half. During that time, the city instituted a face mask mandate affecting local businesses.

Parker said she respects how the City Council operated during the pandemic and that residents should be proud of what they did.

“I am convinced that they saved lives, and when it comes down to it, that was the most important thing to do,” she said.

She said the city should keep economic vitality in mind and continue recruiting businesses to Moscow.

Taylor said the city needs to find a balance between protecting people’s fiscal health as well as protecting their physical health.

“One thing that I would say with the pandemic and the guidelines and policies that we initiate, is we should seek to establish a healthy community and as healthy and protected as possible, while still enabling fiscal growth, and while still having economic prosperity,” he said. “And I think that we can do both.”

Steve Harmon said the city should not have involved itself in how businesses operated. He also called the evidence behind mask efficacy “dubious.”

“I think that it’s the role of the city to stay out of the way of personal health decisions,” Harmon said. “It’s the role of the city to hopefully stay out of the way as much as possible, (regarding) businesses being able to make choices for how they operate their business.”

Stooks said the city did not allow for enough community input when making its decisions. He said the city should have offered recommendations regarding mask use and social distancing, instead of mandates.

“We’re not helicopter parents,” he said about the city government.

Lewis disagreed with the comments from Harmon and Stooks.

“I will respectfully disagree that the conversation of mask efficacy is in question,” she said. “There is abundant science and research that shows that masks work.”

She also said there was “overwhelming” support for the mandates from community members and local schools. She also said the city showed flexibility in business-related issues, such as creating parklets for outdoor restaurant seating.

“Business input was heard by the City Council in the arenas the City Council has power over,” she said.

Taruscio, who currently serves on the City Council, said that at the beginning of the pandemic she “made the best decision I could with the data that I had.”

She said hindsight is 20/20, and that if she did it over again, she would have started with a recommendation and moved to a mandate if needed.

She also said the city can serve businesses by letting them know what resources are available to them and through supporting the Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday’s forum touched on a variety of issues, including climate change and Moscow’s town-gown relationship with the University of Idaho. Video of the forum will be posted on the Chamber of Commerce’s website.

As the candidates gave their closing statements, Harmon signed off with unexpected remarks.

“Fauci funded the Wuhan leak and Epstein didn’t kill himself,” he said.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.