City to consider mask ordinance

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Two weeks ago, Leavenworth County commissioners voted to opt the county out of the governor's order requiring people in Kansas to wear masks in public.

Now, commissioners for the city of Leavenworth plan to consider an ordinance that would require people to wear masks in public areas in the city.

City commissioners plan to discuss such an ordinance next week during a study session. No vote will be taken during the study session. But commissioners could schedule a special meeting if they wish to vote on the ordinance.

The issue came up Tuesday during a meeting of the City Commission.

Mayor Pro-Tem Nancy Bauder raised the issue at the end of the meeting.

Bauder said she believes a mask order is a good way to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep a Leavenworth hospital from being overwhelmed.

“I feel like the numbers are growing here,” she said.

City Attorney David Waters said commissioners could use the city’s home rule authority to adopt an ordinance requiring people to wear masks in public. He said the city could establish a fine for violating the ordinance.

Commissioner Mark Preisinger said commissioners should talk about the issue with input from staff.

Preisinger said he believes the science behind the use of masks indicates that it helps mitigate the coronavirus.

“I see a lot of people wearing masks,” he said. “Unfortunately, I see a lot of people not wearing masks in public places.”

Preisinger said wearing a mask in public is “something that is very easy. It’s not that intrusive.”

Bauder said she does not want to see businesses closed.

“But I don’t think it’s that big of an issue to wear a mask inside of a business,” she said.

Commissioner Camalla Leonhard said she is open to having a discussion about the issue. She said she believes it is up to business owners whether to require masks in their establishments.

Leonhard said people who choose not to wear masks can choose not to go to places that require masks.

Commissioner Jermaine Wilson asked about the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Leavenworth County.

Mayor Mike Griswold said he has more closely been tracking the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the county.

Griswold asked Leavenworth City Manager Paul Kramer to prepare a draft ordinance that would require people to wear masks in public in the city.

“And that would be the basis for the discussion we would have,” he said.

Kramer asked about other information commissioners would like to have for next week’s study session. He asked if commissioners wanted him to reach out to the Leavenworth County Health Department.

Preisinger suggested inviting someone from Saint John Hospital to discuss what he or she is seeing from a hospital perspective.

Preisinger suggested inviting the county health officer may put him in an uncomfortable position because he does not report to the city commissioners.

Griswold suggested looking at where Leavenworth County was a month ago in terms of COVID-19 cases.

“Things have worsened,” he said.

Griswold discussed the issue again Wednesday during a virtual town hall meeting.

“I want to make sure that people understand that the intent is to have a discussion during that study session,” he said.

He said there are three courses of action that may be discussed by commissioners. He said commissioners could do nothing in regards to a mask ordinance. Commissioners could decide they want to take a vote on the ordinance. They also could put the ordinance on the shelf and revisit it if things get dramatically worse.

Griswold said commissioners likely will have a discussion about how such an ordinance would be enforced.

He said commissioners probably also will discuss public reaction to the proposed ordinance.

Griswold noted that the timing of the discussion comes as schools prepare to reopen.

In addition to the discussion at the city level, commissioners for Leavenworth County also may revisit their decision to opt out of the governor’s mask order.

At the end of a meeting Wednesday, County Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said she would like to add the topic to an agenda for a meeting next week as a discussion item.

Kaaz said she would like to discuss the vote county commissioners took two weeks ago and whether it still appears to be appropriate.

Earlier this week, the commanding general of Fort Leavenworth enacted a policy requiring personnel to wear masks inside all facilities on the Army post. Masks also are required to be worn outdoors on the fort if social distancing cannot be maintained, according to information from the Public Affairs Office for the fort’s garrison.

Members of the military who are assigned to Fort Leavenworth also are required to wear masks when in public settings outside of the Army installation.

On Wednesday, Walmart announced it will require customers to wear masks inside all the company’s stores beginning Monday.

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