When they met Wednesday, Leavenworth County commissioners discussed whether they should allow public comment today during a special meeting that will focus on the next steps in the county’s response to COVID-19.

In the end, commissioners voted to allow people to provide comments by telephone if they have contacted county officials ahead of time.

County commissioners met Wednesday for their regular weekly meeting. They are scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m. today to discuss the county’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Local officials are anticipating statewide restrictions will be eased in the coming days, possibly next week, leaving the door open for the implementation of new public health orders at the county level.

The office of Gov. Laura Kelly has announced the governor will deliver an address this evening on how the state will be moving forward.

Commissioner Mike Stieben argued members of the public should be allowed to provide comments today as commissioners look at the next possible steps for the county.

Stieben said he has received letters regarding this topic.

“I think it is important the public be allowed to weigh in on this,” he said.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said the governor’s stay-at-home order will still be in effect during today’s meeting.

Stieben argued providing public comment during the meeting would be an essential activity and allowed under the stay-at-home order.

He suggested people could arrange ahead of time to come into the Leavenworth County Courthouse to deliver their comments while observing social distancing, or people could comment by telephone.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith said members of the public can submit comments by email.

But Stieben said this would not be the same thing.

Stieben also argued commissioners should make no decision before the governor announces what will be happening at the state level.

He said commissioners could have their meeting today to discuss a proposal for the county and then meet again Friday to finalize it after the governor has made her announcement.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz, who participated in Wednesday’s meeting by telephone, said she is not sure the commissioners have the authority to override any plan that is put forth by the county health officer.

Kaaz said she believes the governor will leave it up to the individual counties of the state to develop plans tailored to the needs of each county.

Commissioner Chad Schimke, who also participated by telephone, said the county’s plan should be fluid. He said it likely will change.

Schimke said he does not have a problem with also meeting on Friday.

“I would like to see something passed as soon as possible to get it out to the public,” Smith said.

Smith expressed frustration about what he said is a rumor that the county will be under a lockdown until May 30.

Stieben made a motion to allow public comment during today’s meeting.

Smith initially said the motion died for a lack of a second.

Kaaz said she would not second the motion unless the public comment period is limited to a total of 15 minutes.

Smith said individuals would be limited to three minutes and the combined comments of all speakers would be limited to 15 minutes.

Stieben said he would modify his motion to include this stipulation. Kaaz then seconded the motion.

The motion was approved unanimously.

Loughry said people wanting to provide comments by telephone had to contact the County Commission office by the end of the day on Wednesday. He said people also could provide written comments by email.

Loughry may have provided a couple of details Wednesday about what county officials are planning for the next steps in the county’s COVID-19 response.

Loughry, county commissioners and others who were in the meeting room Wednesday wore face coverings over their noses and mouths.

In response to an inquiry from the Times, Loughry stated in an email that the county government will begin reopening offices to the public next week and staff members will be required to wear face coverings. Loughry also stated face coverings will be part of the requirements for reopening businesses.

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