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BRANSON NEWS: After a failed bid to win the Republican Party nomination for a Branson-area Missouri House seat, former Mayor Karen Best announced Monday that she is running to lead southwest Missouri’s tourism hub once again. The next round of Missouri municipal elections is set for April 6, 2021; candidates may formally file to enter the race beginning Dec. 15.Best, who works in real estate and was an area public school teacher and principal for two decades, served a pair of two-year terms as Branson mayor, leaving office in 2019 after current Mayor Edd Akers defeated her by a few dozen votes.”I am running because I feel that our community needs someone that can listen to both sides of an issue in a respectful way and let the voices of the citizens be heard,” she told the News-Leader on Monday.Best said “a lot of people” have reached out to her “since August” asking her to run again, and she thought “long and hard about the decision.”Best’s reference to August is significant because the previous month, the Branson Board of Aldermen approved a mandatory public masking ordinance following two lengthy, highly contentious public meetings at city hall in which some town stakeholders compared COVID-19 public health measures to totalitarian moves by the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Amid new vocal opposition last week, Branson’s aldermen voted 5 to 1 in favor of extending the public masking ordinance indefinitely.Politics: Joe Biden endorses fellow Democrat Galloway for governorFour days after that latest vote, the editor of the Branson Tri-Lakes News pleaded for civility in the community of some 11,700 souls after a local hospital leader in favor of the mask mandate, CoxHealth’s William Mahoney, was confronted by an angry group in the city hall parking lot. According to the Tri-Lakes News, Mahoney was safely escorted by Branson police officers away from the anti-masking group. No arrests were made following a “brief verbal exchange.”Best said she “would not have supported” Branson’s mask mandate had she been a sitting member of the board of aldermen when the votes were cast.”First, I am pro-mask,” she told the News-Leader. “I have a compromised immune system; therefore, I choose to wear a mask. However, I would not have supported the mandate because of the lack of enforceability.”Best said last week she sat outside entrances of two consumer-oriented businesses inside Branson city limits; each time, just one person entered while wearing a a mask as the ordinance mandates, while a dozen or more other people openly disobeyed the ordinance.”So if you’re going to have a rule that is to be followed, that rule needs to be enforced, Best said. “And that was my issue with the mandate from the very beginning, it’s one that the citizens and business owners were asked to enforce, not law enforcement.”The White House COVID-19 task force has repeatedly advised Missouri to adopt a statewide masking mandate (which Best said she opposed because she prefers local control), as Missouri’s testing positivity rates remain in the “red zone” of greater than 5 percent.Coronavirus: ‘I was terrified’: 20-year-old shares details of battle, long-term recovery from COVID-19Best touted Branson economic development that took place under her watch as mayor, including the Fritz’s Adventure facility and the Branson Ferris Wheel, and she said her pitch to Branson voters is one of building consensus.She said that during her previous term, “There were a lot of people who didn’t always see eye to eye with the direction I thought the city needed to go, but the one thing I was really proud of was they were allowed to share their issues and concerns and be heard. Sometimes those conversations would lead to a change of mind on my part, sometimes they would lead to a change of mind on their part, and sometimes we just had to agree to disagree. But they always felt their voices were heard, and that’s very important in the times we’re living in today.”Messages sent Monday to current Branson Mayor Edd Akers and the city spokesperson seeking comment on Best’s entrance into the race were not immediately returned.But Akers told the Branson Tri-Lakes News during the 2019 campaign that he thought Branson city government needed vision for the community’s future.“There’s a lot of things in place, but there doesn’t seem to be a vision or direction for the future,” Akers told the Branson newspaper. “I know they did the Community Plan 2030, and it was due to be reviewed last year but hasn’t yet. The city needs someone who can communicate and bring people together for the citizens of Branson.”In a city email newsletter dated Thursday, Akers commented on Branson’s newly extended mask mandate, for which he voted in favor.”As we continue working through Pandemic Stage 5 (Spread),” Akers wrote, “and begin working toward Stage 6 (Recovery and Prep for Subsequent Waves), it is important to keep the end in mind, the end being a vaccine that is readily available for all citizens of Branson who desire the inoculation. This is an end state, not an end date and the face coverings, along with good hygiene and social distancing, are helping us lead more normal lives until we get to that point where there is a vaccine available.”In another recent city update ahead of Amazon’s Prime Day online shopping event, Akers called on Missouri lawmakers to add a use tax allowing online purchases to be taxed just like purchases from Missouri’s brick-and-mortar stores. Buying online rather than buying locally costs Branson’s city government roughly $600,000 per year, he said, a significant sum for a municipality of Branson’s size.Akers added, “This number will continue to rise as more and more people seem to be shopping online.”March 10 is the final day when voters may register for the April 2021 municipal elections, according to the Missouri Secretary of State.Gregory Holman is the investigative reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing.
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