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Interim Emporia Police Chief Ed Owens speaks to the Emporia City Commission Wednesday afternoon.

The Emporia City Commission narrowly approved an ordinance establishing a new offense in the city code related to the violation of public health orders during a Wednesday afternoon action session.

The ordinance — “Violating a Public Health Order” — makes it unlawful to disobey an order imposed by the Lyon County Public Health Officer, Lyon County Board of Health or Lyon County Director of Health. The offense is classified as a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $500, up to one month of jail time, or both.

Commissioners Becky Smith, Susan Brinkman and Rob Gilligan voted in favor of the ordinance, while Danny Giefer and Jon Geitz both voiced dissent to the measure.

City Attorney Christina Montgomery said the proposed penalties mirrored those that could be imposed through state law for disobeying orders set by the secretary of health and environment; however, the ordinance would only apply for orders instated by the county.

Currently, the county is under a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Laura Kelly through April 19. The governor’s order superseded a county-wide stay-at-home order issued by Lyon County Public Health Officer Renee Hively that would have extended through April 25.

“After the governor’s executive order expires, the county’s orders may resume,” Montgomery said. “The ordinance that we are proposing today does not give the Emporia Police Department the authority to enforce Gov. Kelly’s executive order. That is not granted to city police departments.”

However, Montgomery added that EPD officers can charge individuals with the crime of “interference with law enforcement” if they are found to be disobeying a lawful order, such as holding a large gathering and refusing to disperse.

Interim Police Chief Ed Owens said the police department had requested the city consider adopting such an ordinance.

“This is not giving us carte blanche to go out and do what we want,” Owens said. “We just had nothing to enforce [this] locally.”

Owens said he felt the new code would help to “streamline” the police department’s response to complaints related to the stay-at-home orders with the municipal court.

Geitz said his main concern was imposing city code based on a county-wide order. He said he would rather see the county commission make such a declaration, rather than the city.

“I think the best thing we can do is strongly encourage everyone to follow the orders,” he said. “Every group can have one or two people that can really want to violate the order, and I think the best thing we can do is just everyone understand the severity of the health order and be smart about it so the police don’t have to be involved to begin with.”

Brinkman said she voted in favor of the ordinance because she felt it was important for the local authorities to be able to enforce a public health order.

“From my perspective, all this does is better utilize our human resources — and particularly our law enforcement officers,” she told The Emporia Gazette in a phone interview after the meeting. “Instead of just a few folks from the county being able to protect our citizenry and follow these guidelines — which are really critical.

“The sooner we can all agree to that, the sooner we can all go back out. This allows the EPD to work within the same jurisdiction of the law, and we are a city within the county, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to align better with the county in terms of how we are enforcing the laws on the books.”

Commissioners also discussed how future meetings will be held as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Montgomery said city commissioners were required by state statute to make the meetings publicly available, even if the public could not attend for safety reasons — as is the case right now.

The board will meet virtually next week.

Geitz said Emporians who would like to ask questions or have items for public comment should consider submitting their questions to the city manager’s office or by contacting commissioners directly.

“Contact the city manager’s office or email one of the city commissioners,” he said. “Our contact information is on the first page of the city website.”

Meeting agendas and minutes, along with contact information for the city commission can be found at www.emporia-kansas.gov/index.php/city-commission.

Call 343-4250 to reach City Manager Mark McAnarney’s office.

The commission also:

• Approved the Riverside Addition Rural Housing Incentive District

• Proclaimed April as National Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month on behalf of SOS, Inc.

(13) comments

SnowGypsy

Many people get mild cases of the influenza also, or it is mistaken for a cold. 80% of the people that get COVID 19 will have mild symptoms. And, people don't stay home when they get the flu, how do you think that gets spread when 80,000 people in one flu season die from "flu-related" and thousands more actually end up with the flu that don't die? Both are viruses and both look to me like they are spread in the same way - droplets from sneezing and/or coughing on to a person or a person getting into them if they were "sprayed" on something they touch and then that person touching their nose, eyes, or mouth. Like with the flu, most of the deaths appear to happen to people who have underlying serious health issues, or did those people really die of the serious health issue which they had prior? I had read that 95% of the deaths in NYC had serious risk factors/underlying health issues, and this is also the way it goes with the flu. Obviously when people are packed in one area like sardines in a can, like NYC, everything will spread quickly, and the same with nursing homes, add cruise ships. Both CA and NY should have done something about their homeless people, WA also as that was a ticking time bomb in the first place! The flu and the COVID 19 (4 other corona viruses circulate, with 2 appearing like the common cold) are both viruses. We shall soon see if COVID 19 was that much different than the seasonal flu in its behavior or not. Big difference that I see is that when thousands are dying of the flu, no one really pays attention, but with COVID 19, we shut down the world.

Alfred

NCAA final four canceled, NBA canceled, Glass Blowers canceled, Olympics canceled, Wimbledon canceled, Masters canceled. MLB canceled, But there is still hope for the dirty Kanza.

Aim_High

My money is on cancelled.

netloafer

I hope I won’t be misunderstood, but while I understand the need to stop this virus from spreading, we also need to understand there can be long term implications to the decisions our leaders make. There are some videos embedded in the link I’m posting that demonstrate that. In England, for example, the police are flying drones that capture citizens walking their dogs on country roads, then shaming them with what’s now become a mantra -“We’re all in this together.” In another country the police are stationing themselves outside of grocery stores checking the items that people are buying. They’re even asking questions like, “Is what you bought essential?”

Now I’m all for social distancing. I understand the nature of the crisis and the need of the moment. But what happens when the moment passes? Will the legal justifications being used for the sake of public safety be tucked away? Or will new legal justifications be created to forward the agenda of politicians, whether left, right, etc?

While I understand the need of the moment, I am concerned that politicians and lawyers love power and love exercising it even more. And, as Lord Acton once observed, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The link to the essay follows, along with the videos.

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/a-new-viral-infection-leaders-seizing-power-police-bullying-citizens/

SnowGypsy

Well, look what happened after 9/11 borders were left open and thousands of refugees from unfriendly nations were brought into the country while putting limits on the US citizens. They are exercising their powers right now to see how far they can go, and if left unchecked, the next time, it will be MUCH more restrictive.

SnowGypsy

The use of quarantine or isolation powers may create sensitive issues related to civil liberties. Individuals have rights to due process of law, and generally, isolation or quarantine must be carried out in the least restrictive setting necessary to maintain public health.

That comes from this article: https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-quarantine-and-isolation-statutes.aspx I think that "least restrictive" is the operative phrase. This addresses individual states: https://www.lawfareblog.com/quarantine-and-isolation-authorities-states-affected-covid-19 Something must have changed since punishment appears to be less than what the city plans to impose.

Would appreciate the Gazette determining if this info is correct from the referenced article since it differs from what I have read the city will impose as per the article under the heading of Kansas:

"Violating a local health officer’s order of quarantine or isolation is punishable by a fine of $25 to $100 for each offense. Violating an order of quarantine or isolation issued by the state Department of Health and Environment is a Class C misdemeanor."

SnowGypsy

I do not understand why Lyon County has more "restrictive" orders than other counties. While restrictions can be applied to minimize spread, they are to be least restrictive and that would certainly lean more toward quarantine of those that are infected. Something isn't right in this county, and people are starting to notice. Projected deaths are down from 1 million to 100,000 - and again, in the 2017-2018 flu season, 80,000 people died. Both the flu and COVID 19 are viruses. Testing for the flu is 40 - 60% accurate, and I suspect that for the COVID 19, even less effective as they just threw something together, like they did their estimates of mortality. I think people need to ask and be told, publish the justification for the tighter restrictions than nearly all other counties. Something isn't right here.

James Bordonaro

In contrast to the view taken by SnowGypsy, I believe the City's ordinance is a valid exercise of authority. One of the leading court cases related to health regulations by a State is that of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905). There, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a State may require all adults be vaccinated for smallpox. Furthermore, time, place and manner restrictions have long been recognized as proper regulation of the right to assemble.

SnowGypsy

So, they were saying that law enforcement would not be doing face-to-face for crimes unless they were in progress, and now, they will be out arresting people in the public if they decide they are breaking public health orders, orders which are being questioned all over the country as to whether the orders are constitutional. Orders must be least restrictive, and it has to be an emergency/crisis situation. Time will tell on this. I expect civil disobedience on this simply to test the validity. Should be interesting as it is already starting in other parts of the country. I have read what they are using as a basis to say this is OK, and I really didn't see the situation fitting COVID 19. Watch the graphs on KDHE: https://public.tableau.com/profile/kdhe.epidemiology#!/vizhome/COVID-19Data_15851817634470/KSCOVID-19CaseData Again, in the 2017/2018 flu season, 80,000 deaths, no stay-at-home orders to save those people.

billrw3

Are you really still equating Covid-19 to the flu? Or that the impetus for the crisis has to do simply with the mortality rate. Not the sharpest tool in the shed are you.

It's regrettable that for people who just blow it off aren't able to be left to fend for their own devices, but like most GOP actions, it always impacts others negatively.

DT2020

the flu is actually worse than a common cold. I get closing old folks homes because we arent immune to this cold yet but all these healthy people sitting on thier hands hiding is shamful.

JustAName

Except for the fact some of those "healthy" people may actually have the covid 19, since some of the symptoms don't show up for days. And it's just not old folks getting it, it's people of all ages. I keep seeing the stats about flu thrown around, but I don't see how you can compare this to the flu. The flu the signs are pretty clear, and generally when people have the flu they.... Stay home. Or they go to the doctor and easily can be tested for it. With covid a healthy person could be walking around with it for days before signs show up, and the signs can be very mild. And who knows if you will be able to get a test and when you will get results.

Aim_High

I see the local conservative experts are still here spreading their nonsense. SnowDipsy and DT need some serious mental help. There's been so much information published, and they keep coming back to this nonsense about seasonal flu and common colds... people are dying and SnowDipsy is more worried about her constitutional rights and rationalizing dead people. SAAAAAD!

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