After a lengthy and heated discussion that included public comment from parents, school board members and local law enforcement, the Emporia City Commission adopted a mandatory mask ordinance, Wednesday afternoon.

The ordinance will go into effect upon publication in The Emporia Gazette and will remain in place through Sept. 16. It requires a mask or other face covering that covers both the nose and mouth to be worn in public spaces — both indoors and outdoors — when social distancing of at least 6-feet apart is not possible. Public space is defined as any indoor or outdoor space or area that is open to the public, and does not include private residential or private office or workspaces that are closed to customers and public visitors.

Businesses, organizations and non-profits located within the city must now require all employees, visitors, customers, members and non-members to wear a mask and face covering.

The city’s ordinance includes exemptions for children ages 5 and under, people with medical conditions or disability that make mask wearing a difficulty, the hearing impaired, people for whom wearing a face covering will create risks at work, people seated at restaurants or other establishments serving food and beverages that maintain 6-feet of distance between customers, athletes engaged in some sports activities, court-related proceedings held or managed by the Kansas Judiciary, persons engaged in professional or recreational activities that have been deemed by public-health that masks cannot be worn for safety reasons.

Violations will be punishable with a fine of $25 for first time offenders, $50 for the second violation and $100 for the third and subsequent violation plus court costs.

City Attorney Christina Montgomery reviewed similar mandatory mask ordinances from other cities in the region including Wichita, Hays, Salina and Manhattan.

Commissioner Becky Smith raised concerns over how those violations would be handled and voiced frustration in the “lack of transparency” involved with the ordinance, which was just added to the commission agenda Wednesday morning.

“I feel like we need to take a breath so we can listen to our constituents and be transparent about this,” she said. “I don’t know if my small businesses, my large businesses, my ‘average Joe’ — my phone has been blowing up with pros and cons. I just want to be transparent and it’s almost sneaky to get this in today.”

The rush to get the ordinance passed was due in part to the upcoming return of Emporia State University students and the start of the 2020-21 school year for PreK-12 students in local schools. Smith said she understood those concerns, but wondered why those concerns were just now being brought to the city commission.

“I understand they were disappointed with the county but that was the end of June,” Smith said. “I understand the students are going to filter out through town, but I want to be more transparent.”

Smith also voiced concerns about overtaxing Emporia Police and the Lyon County Emergency Communications Center with 911 calls related to mask violations. To that, Interim-Police Chief Ed Owens also voiced some concerns on behalf of the EPD and the dispatch center. Owens said law enforcement has had to look at a lot of operational items regarding enforcement of city ordinances as a result of the pandemic. This could add another layer of confusion to the mix.

“We are concerned with the inundation of calls to our dispatch center,” he said, adding that much of what is in the ordinance is already being practiced. “We’re practicing that now, this would just be in writing. People can walk down the street without a mask on as long as they’re handling their social distancing.”

Owens said he would recommend businesses and organizations “self-police” when it comes to the ordinance and use their judgement on when it is necessary to call EPD for assistance. If someone comes in and refuses to wear a mask and then refuses to leave, at that point they would be criminally trespassing on top of violating the new ordinance. Otherwise, Owens said it was absolutely not acceptable to call 911 over mask violations.

“That does not constitute calling 911,” he said. “I think a lot of it falls upon our local businesses and I’m like everyone — I hate to see our small businesses in town, our local businesses, suffer during this pandemic. It’s been horrible to watch.”

Commissioner Susan Brinkman also questioned the timing of the ordinance’s delivery to city commissioners, stating she had not received the document to read until Wednesday morning. She also questioned why the ordinance was originally set to expire Oct. 7 and how that date calculated.

Commissioner Jon Geitz said that was around 60 days after Wednesday’s meeting and halfway through ESU’s fall semester. By that time, he said, it should be clear the mask mandate is working.

“How will we know?” Brinkman countered. “What are the metrics? What are the numbers? I have asked this question over and over and over.”

After some discussion, commissioners agreed to move the ordinance’s end date to Sept. 16.

Geitz said this was an ordinance that should never have come to the Emporia City Commissioners to decide, rather it should have been made on a state or county level.

“I would suggest constituents contact their county commissioners, their Kansas legislators, their Kansas congressional delegation and ask why this came down to a city-by-city decision,” he said, adding that he also did not like having an ordinance come across his desk for a decision on the same day it was received. But, Geitz said he also believed this was an issue that needed to be resolved rather than put off for another week.

Commissioner Rob Gilligan agreed.

“I would argue that the ordinance may be a surprise, but the conversation shouldn’t be,” he said. “As soon as the county declined the governor’s order a month ago, I reached out to our city attorney. I asked for a draft ordinance. I never received a draft ordinance for us to talk about. ... I have been asking this for four weeks.”

Gilligan said to delay a vote on the ordinance would be a failure to show leadership. The statewide mandate should have been accepted at the least, and it should have been a federal mandate, he said. And, if it was just about metrics, Gilligan said Lyon County should still have a mask mandate even with zero active cases in case someone from outside the area comes to town with COVID-19.

“Wearing masks and requiring people to wear masks helps to limit the risk of that situation,” he said. “I agree, this is not the best way for us to do it, getting an ordinance an hour before or six hours before or a day before. I would argue that delaying action to respond to a global pandemic for five months is a bad way to show community leadership. I think that the entire state of Kansas has done that and government at all levels has done that.”

Mayor Danny Giefer said he also felt bad springing an ordinance into an action session on short notice, but the importance of the issue could not be ignored.

“There’s a lot of people ahead of us that should have stepped up to the plate,” Giefer said. “It discourages me that they didn’t. I don’t like wearing masks. Like everyone else, I’d like to get back to normal. But, I haven’t heard any statistics that say that the masks don’t help and that’s from the president on down.”

Owens encouraged the community to respect the mask ordinance.

“The last five months have been tough in a lot of different ways,” Owens said. “Be mindful, take some self-responsibility in actions that you present when you’re in public. It’s really not that difficult. I’ll be the first to say that I’m really not a fan of wearing masks but guess what? When I go somewhere and I need to be mindful of my surroundings, I put one on. It’s that simple.”

(28) comments

Comment deleted.
Vintage Queen

What a rude statement, CitizenV, and NOT the point. The point is that counties that mask have lowered their cases and that by having people wear them in Emporia, people can and will be safer, safer than NOT wearing them. The POINT is about masking and knowing that by wearing them people are keeping any potential virus more to themselves, than spreading to the person next to them.

Smkiefer

Gilligan forced his opinion on the entire community. He stated that " he felt" the Governors order should have been upheld State wide! I really don't care how " he felt" I deal in facts!!! My body My choice! Remember that statement?????? Dang sure don't need to go to Emporia to do my business!!!

Vintage Queen

I agree, your body, your choice unless your choice can spread the virus to me or others. Than it's not just about you. People can get it and have no symptoms for days, or no symptoms period, but pass it along. You don't know who has it, I don't know who has it and is walking around. Why would you want to take the chance you could get it and pass it along before you even knew you had it, if you KNOW it can be very serious? WHAT is so difficult about wearing a mask for the time it takes to go into a business if it can make us all safer?

Timmyg1234

If your mask works than wear it. Dont force other to if they dont want to. All this is is a whole bunch of corrupt government wanting power and control.

Vintage Queen

Timmy, you still don't seem to grasp this. It's simple.. Masks help keep the virus to the person wearing it, so MY wearing one helps protect YOU and others, YOU wearing one keeps anything you could have to yourself. HOW is that about a govt wanting "control"? To live among others, there are rules to keep us safe. Over a 160,000 are dead. Someone infected them. People go to a gathering and have infected dozens. Had they JUST had a mask on when they couldn't socially distance, many lives would have been saved.

So I care enough to wear a mask to protect others, keep any virus I could have to myself. Don't you care enough to help protect others? We know masking, social distancing in public helps save lives. Counties who have masked have fewer cases. Why isn't that a good enough reason to wear a mask in public til this is under control?

BigRed

So you agree my body my choice, so long as no one else is harmed by that choice . . . interesting.

BigRed

VC, you also say that counties who mask have fewer cases. That is simply not true. Even with their huge reduction in COVID cases the counties who mask have a higher rate of COVID than the counties who do not require masks. Please do not spread such misinformation.

cropduster1

The whole ordinance should be scrubbed. Not necessarily because it's wrong but because of the way it was passed. I don't think Gilligan had power to put it on the agenda just because he thought it was an emergency. It should have been like any other agenda item and posted ahead of time. I also don't understand why Brinkman and Smith voted in favor if they were uncomfortable with the way it was handled. Could we maybe they are yes people to the rest of the commission? I suggest if Gilligan is so worried about the college students coming to town that he goes up to the college and personally hands out masks to each and everyone of them at his own personal expense.

Vintage Queen

Thank you, Rob, for caring about the community. Too many make this a political issue, when it's a health issue. Communities who mask fare better than those who don't and whether or not it's popular, it can save lives. I don't know anyone who LIKES to have to wear a mask, but it's better to have to breathe through a mask than not be able to breathe at all. .

houndi

Thanks to Rob Gilligan he's holden up the citizens as hostages.

Vintage Queen

Actually, people NOT Masking are holding ME and others hostage because we don't wish to get the virus you or others could have. I MASK to keep you and others safe. Your mask protects me and others. Anyone can go anywhere in public as long as they MASK, how is that holding you hostage? Let's see, wear masks and lower cases or don't mask and cases go up. Hard decision.

Timmyg1234

If your mask works than why are you afraid of other not wearing a mask. If your mask protects you then wear it but all it is doing is weakening your bodies immune system.

Vintage Queen

Timmy, MY MASK protects YOU more than me. And no, it's not weakening my body's immune system, it's helping keep others safe just like others wearing a mask helps keep me safe. There is a reason the US has over five million cases and over 160,000 deaths. Many countries have fared better because they cared enough about themselves and others to mask, socially-distance and now many of these countries have managed to open safely, have kept their numbers down.

sail

Our local police will not allow you the freedom to walk down 6th street without pants on,,,,so why the big deal about in a pandemic would you wine about a mask.

cropduster1

JUst put a mask on below you waist and you should be okay

sail

made me chuckle at the thought.

cropduster1

Why don't I have my mask on?

What did you say? I can't hear you.

Hollowed Ground

"I hate to see our small businesses in town, our local businesses, suffer during this pandemic. It's been horrible to watch." Hmmm, If Mr. Owens thinks that's horrible, he ought to try watching people fade away on a respirator as it tries to pump what air it can into what few alveoli are left after taking in Mr. Corona at a party or an open restaurant where people are 6 feet apart but linger for an hour indoors with no masks. From what I read there are now over 1,000 opportunities every day to watch this scene unfold with more opportunities presenting themselves every day. He doesn't have far to drive, just a few blocks.

Chrism

This should have happened 5 months ago. It’s about time. If kids are expected to wear masks in school the adults can step up to the plate also.

Rationa1

It's the right decision.

JustAName

That's it.. I've had enough! Im going to get in my properly insured vehicle, put my seat belt on, drive the posted speed limit while obeying all traffic signs, drive to commissions office, put my cigarette out before entering, go through proper security check points, and answer the covid questions and im going to tell them it's against my rights to wear a mask! Infringe rights, to heck with them.

Hollowed Ground

Don't text or sext while you drive there, and leave the gun at the desk.

DIAMOND in the ROUGH

Personally, I hope every person in the city who voted for this gets personally sued and loses EVERYTHING they own. They are just power hungry dictators who take pleasure in interfering in other peoples' lives and imposing their own fears and hangups on everyone else to try to make themselves look a little more "normal" They should never be allowed to be in any type of position of authority. I hope every single one of them goes down HARD

Rationa1

Sued on what grounds? I think it would be easier not to vote for them when they come up for reelection. Cheaper, too.

Timmyg1234

I agree. All this is is steps to a full government take over. The democrats want to make this world into a one world gov.

houndi

I share your thoughts.thumbs up.

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