City approves mask order

John Richmeier
People gather outside of Leavenworth City Hall on Thursday in protest of a city mask mandate. They gathered as city commissioners met to discuss the mask mandate, which was approved.

Beginning Saturday, people will be required to wear face coverings when in public spaces in the city of Leavenworth.

During a special meeting Thursday, city commissioners approved an ordinance that establishes a mask mandate for the city.

City Manager Paul Kramer said the order will go into effect Saturday.

Commissioners said they approved the ordinance as a way to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Mayor Mike Griswold said the recent exponential rise of COVID-19 cases in Leavenworth County is a public health crisis.

He said requiring people to wear masks is one of the tools available to commissioners to combat the problem.

The mask ordinance was approved by a vote of 4-1. Commissioner Jermaine Wilson voted against the ordinance.

The Leavenworth County government exempted the county from a mask mandate issued earlier this year by the governor. But city commissioners have the authority to enact a mask mandate for the city.

The city’s mask order will not impact other areas of Leavenworth County.

City Attorney David Waters said the city’s mask order mirrors the mask mandate issued earlier in the year by Gov. Laura Kelly.

He said the city’s mask requirement applies mostly to indoor public spaces. He said it applies to outdoor public spaces when people cannot stay at least six feet apart.

“Face mask is very broadly defined,” he said.

He said masks can include cloth masks and plastic face shields.

The ordinance creates exceptions for the mask requirement. Among the people who are exempt are children under the age of 5 and people who have medical or mental health conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings.

Waters said the ordinance also places a burden on business owners to ensure that masks are worn in their businesses.

Leavenworth Police Chief Pat Kitchens said police officers will try to educate people about the order and try to resolve issues through voluntary compliance.

He said there may be cases in which people are defiant that result in citations.

“We would hope that would be rare,” he said.

Violation of the ordinance can result in fines ranging from $5 to $20.

Kitchens said calls to the Police Department involving serious crimes in progress will be given priority over calls related to the mask ordinance.

Commissioners discussed enacting a mask order in July but took no action at that time.

Commissioner Camalla Leonhard said Thursday that she did not support the ordinance in July. At that time, she wanted to watch COVID-19 numbers.

“Well, I watched the numbers,” she said Thursday. “It is out of control. They have skyrocketed.”

Wilson said he encourages people to wear masks and practice good hygiene and social distancing.

He said people must choose to make the right decision.

“We do not have the manpower to enforce the mask mandate,” he said.

Griswold began Thursday’s meeting by playing video from a portion of a meeting of the Leavenworth County Board of County Commissioners that took place Wednesday. During the county meeting, Leavenworth County Health Officer Jamie Miller provided an update about COVID-19 cases in the county.

Several people who attended Thursday’s City Commission meeting spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Outside of Leavenworth City Hall, a group gathered to protest the ordinance.

Ordinances in Leavenworth typically require first and second readings at separate meetings before they can be approved.

During Thursday’s meeting, commissioners voted to declare the ordinance an emergency to waive the requirement for a second reading. That motion passed 4-1 with Wilson voting against it.

The ordinance is scheduled to remain in effect until Jan. 31. Commissioners said the order can be rescinded early.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

Mayor Mike Griswold, right, speaks with Commissioner Mark Preisinger before the start of a special City Commission meeting Thursday at Leavenworth City Hall. Also pictured are Commissioner Camalla Leonhard and City Manager Paul Kramer.