RACINE, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) -- A local small business has been denied grants for COVID-19 relief because one of the owners attended a rally opposing the state’s ’Safer at Home’ order.
Dimple Navratil, owner of Dimple Fine Imports LLC on Main St. in Racine, says at first she couldn’t figure out why they weren’t qualifying for the grant.
“There were two rounds, we didn’t get the first one and we were like it's okay there are other businesses, there wasn’t enough money, fewer picked for that,” says Navratil, “But when we applied the second time, there more people involved and more grants available and when we didn’t get the second one, that's where we starting wondering why we didn’t get it.”
Navratil took her questions directly to the city, where at first, she was told there weren’t enough funds. She says after learning there was at least $900,000 allocated from small businesses, she knew something didn’t seem right.
“Finally I did get a chance to talk to the mayor and he told me it had to do with the compliance. And I was totally surprised by what he said, I thought he was talking about our store at first, and I said what do you mean we’ve been shut down until we were told we could open. And he said no, it was about being at the rally. That's when it hit me that he was talking about my husband.”
Her husband and co-worker, Denis Navratil, attended a rally against the state’s ‘Safer at Home’ order in Madison in late April.
In a statement released from Racine Mayor Cory Mason Monday afternoon, he confirms the grant denial is in fact because of Denis’ participation in that rally.
Statement from the Mayor:
“The small business grants were given out through a competitive grant process. These were discretionary grants and no one was entitled to funding. Between the two rounds of grants, the City received 357 applications totaling almost $3 million in requests, and we had a total of $900,000 to give out, which went to 164 businesses. That means we had funding for less than half of all the applicants. Many great City businesses didn’t get funded because there were simply not enough funds to go around. However, if an applicant was in violation of laws or city ordinance, not conforming to zoning requirements, or hadn’t paid their taxes, that applicant was less competitive.
As Mayor, it is my duty to protect the public health of our City's residents. While I certainly support the rights of free speech and assembly, I cannot in good conscience send scarce City resources to a person or business that willingly jeopardized public health, especially when they were competing with other businesses who were not as flagrantly violating safety measures. If an applicant was openly violating the statewide "Safer at Home" order and the public health emergency under which the City was operating to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, that applicant would compete less favorably. For instance, participating in mass gatherings outside of our community, such as a rally with a thousand or more individuals at the State Capitol, only served to put City residents at unnecessary risk, and was certainly factored into the funding determinations. When it comes to disbursing discretionary funds aimed at helping businesses who were sacrificing to protect public health, the City is not going to reward business owners who took reckless behaviors that risked the health of our community.” – Mayor Cory Mason
Denis Navratil says the mayor’s stance goes against the constitution.
“It is a first amendment right to speak and assemble, but also you can disagree with my being there but at the time it was understood by most people that you could be outside wearing a mask and social distancing and that's what I was doing exactly,” says Navratil.
He adds that he doesn’t believe the mayor has the authority to punish people for exercising their first amendment rights and will be pursuing legal action. They are now being represented by the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty.