Commissioners to discuss governor’s order during special meeting

John Richmeier
jrichmeier@leavenworthtimes.com
Leavenworth County Commission Chairman Doug Smith, left, wears a mask Wednesday during a commission meeting. Commissioner Mike Stieben, right, started the meeting with a mask but eventually removed it. Also pictured is County Administrator Mark Loughry, center. Commissioners plan to meet this evening to discuss an order from Gov. Laura Kelly that requires people to wear masks in public spaces.

Updated at 2:04 p.m. July 2, 2020.

Today’s special meeting of the Leavenworth County Commission is now scheduled for 5:15 p.m. People can watch the meeting live on the county's YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIoaDlW1ch-QLR_HsaQMJQQ

Leavenworth County commissioners plan to meet this evening to decide whether to opt out of a governor’s order that will require people to wear masks.

The order is supposed to be released today. Commissioners scheduled a special meeting for 8 p.m. to discuss the order.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday she will be issuing a statewide order that will require most people in the state to wear masks when they are in public spaces and social distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained. The order, which is intended to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, will go into effect Friday.

A law passed last month during a special session of the Kansas Legislature allows county commissioners to issue health orders with provisions that are less stringent than a statewide executive order from the governor.

Leavenworth County commissioners discussed the governor’s pending order when they met Wednesday for their regular weekly meeting.

“We haven’t seen the order yet, and I don’t know how it would even be enforced,” Commission Chairman Doug Smith said.

Commissioner Chad Schimke proposed scheduling a special meeting for tonight or Friday so commissioners can discuss whether they wish to adopt an alternative to the governor’s order.

For many, including county employees, Friday will be observed as a holiday because Independence Day falls on Saturday.

“Friday is a holiday for us,” County Administrator Mark Loughry said.

Loughry said he believes the governor chose to release her order the day before a holiday weekend to give counties the least amount of time to respond.

Smith said there is no way law enforcement officers will be able to enforce the governor’s order.

Schimke said he believes law enforcement agencies will still be overrun by calls stemming from the governor’s order. He suggested making an announcement about the county’s response as soon as possible.

“I think it’s in our best interest to have a meeting before the weekend,” he said.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson, who participated in the meeting by telephone, said he received about 300 emails from constituents regarding the governor’s order. All but three of the people who sent emails are against masks being mandatory.

“It’s not so much about wearing a mask,” Culbertson said. “It’s about being told what to do.”

He said it is ironic the order will go into effect the day before Independence Day.

Commissioner Mike Stieben suggested continuing with recommendations already in place in Leavenworth County.

Guidance issued by the Leavenworth County Health Department recommends masks be worn in public places, but this is not mandatory.

Stieben characterized the governor’s order as a one size fits all approach.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz, who also participated in the meeting by telephone, said the governor’s order may be going too far. But she suggested the county health officer look at a limited requirement for wearing masks for people visiting medical offices.

Commissioners approved a motion to schedule a meeting for 8 p.m. today.

Visitors to the Leavenworth County Courthouse, which is where commissioners meet, are required to wear masks.

Smith wore a mask throughout Wednesday’s meeting. Schimke did not wear a mask. Stieben started the meeting with a mask but eventually removed it.

Kaaz and Culbertson participated by phone.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Listened to comments from people who oppose a special use permit for a surface mining operation in the area of 166th Street and Lenape Road.

Commissioners are scheduled to have a public hearing on the matter at 6 p.m. July 8.

Commissioners also are scheduled to have a regular weekly meeting July 8. They voted Wednesday to move the regular meeting to 5 p.m. July 8 instead of the normal meeting time of 9 a.m.

• Approved the renewal of special use permits for Coble RV & Boat Storage at 22617 155th St. and Holy-Field Winery at 18807 158th St.

• Discussed the possibility of increasing discretionary fees.

Commissioner Chad Schimke suggested the idea as a way to keep property taxes from increasing.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said he will notify elected county officials who control the fees that the fees will be part of upcoming budget discussions.

• Discussed a proposed policy regarding the acquisition of easements.

County Commissioner Chad Schimke, right, forgoes wearing a mask Wednesday during a commission meeting. Also pictured is Senior County Counselor David Van Parys. County commissioners plan to meet this evening to discuss an order from Gov. Laura Kelly that requires people to wear masks in public spaces.