The Leavenworth City Commission extends mask order through March 31

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times
This sign is posted at the main entrance to Leavenworth City Hall. On Tuesday, Leavenworth city commissioners voted to extend the city's mask order.

This story was updated at 6:09 p.m. Jan. 27, 2021, with additional information.

The Leavenworth City Commission has voted to extend the city’s mask order through March 31.

The city’s original mask order, which was approved in November, was scheduled to expire Sunday.

Commissioners passed a replacement mask ordinance Tuesday and set the expiration date to match the current end date for the state’s disaster declaration.

The motion passed with a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Jermaine Wilson was the only commissioner who voted against the measure.

The ordinance requires people to wear masks or other face coverings in public spaces in the city.

Commissioners approved the ordinance in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“Now is not the time to rescind or let the ordinance we passed in November lapse,” Commissioner Mike Griswold said.

Griswold read a statement during the meeting, announcing he would vote to extend the ordinance.

Griswold argued the earlier enactment of the city’s mask order and similar orders in Lansing and Tonganoxie have contributed to what he said are positive trends in terms of new COVID-19 cases in the county.

Commissioner Mark Preisinger said he believes masks have a strong mitigating effect on the spread of COVID-19.

Preisinger said he believed Tuesday’s vote would be the most defining vote of each of the five city commissioners.

“I’m saddened by how this has divided this community and we’re better than this,” Preisinger said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Camalla Leonhard said it is unfortunate the issue has become divisive.

“That was never the intent of the mask ordinance,” she said.

She said it is an issue of people’s health and safety.

“It is a public health crisis,” she said.

Mayor Nancy Bauder said the mask ordinance is temporary.

“We have the vaccines coming, hopefully coming quicker rather than slower,” she said.

Wilson said he has seen COVID-19 cases in Leavenworth County fluctuate since the mask ordinance was approved.

Before the city’s mandate, about 90% of the people in the community wore masks, Wilson said.

With the mandate in place, still only about 90% of the people in the community wear masks, he argued.

“This mandate has created a division among our community,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he also is bothered by the fact that the ordinance includes exemptions for recreational activities, but a minister is required to wear a mask while preaching in church.

“I do not understand that,” he said. “That does not make sense to me.”

Wilson also questioned why families are allowed to not wear masks while seated together in restaurants but families have to wear masks while at church.

Griswold said he would be willing to consider an exemption for ministers who are a significant distance from their audiences while delivering sermons.

City Attorney David Waters said the first mask ordinance and the new ordinance were based on executive orders issued by Gov. Laura Kelly. He said the governor’s orders did not include exemptions for churches.

But Waters said city commissioners have the power to create exemptions for their own order.

Waters recommended that commissioners approve the extension ordinance as presented Tuesday and allow city staff time to prepare wording for an amendment to be presented at a future meeting.

Commissioners approved the ordinance Tuesday without any exemptions related to ministers or churches.

Before approving the new ordinance, commissioners voted to declare the ordinance an emergency to waive the requirement for a second reading. That motion also passed 4-1 with Wilson voting against it.

Ordinances in Leavenworth typically require first and second readings at separate meetings before they can be approved. But Tuesday’s vote eliminated the need for a second reading.

Before the votes, City Manager Paul Kramer and City Clerk Carla Williamson read written comments submitted by five members of the public who were opposed to the extension of the mask order.

Commissioners also heard comments from two members of the audience. One was against the extension. The other supported the extension.

Kramer said Wednesday that he and the city attorney likely will prepare an exemption for someone who is addressing crowds, but this would not be specific to churches.

He said adding such an exemption to the mask order would require passage of a new ordinance.

Last week, the Tonganoxie City Council extended a mask order for that city through April 14.

Lansing City Council members will consider an extension of a mask order for their city when they meet Thursday night.

There is no countywide mask mandate. The Leavenworth County Board of County Commissioners has exempted the county from the governor’s mask mandate.