The wearing of masks in public places will be required inside the city limits of Paola after an ordinance supporting Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mandate was approved by the Paola City Council on Tuesday, July 14.

Mayor Artie Stuteville cast the deciding “yes” vote to approve the ordinance after council members Dave Smail and Aaron Nickelson voted “yes” and Trent Upshaw and Leigh House voted “no.”

The decision was made following a lengthy and emotional public comment session during which community members made impassioned pleas on both sides of the debate.

The 3-2 vote was similar to that of the Osawatomie City Council, which voted 5-4 on July 9 to also make masks mandatory in public places as outlined in the governor’s executive order. Mayor Mark Govea cast the deciding “yes” vote.

The cities join Spring Hill as municipalities that have adopted the mask mandate, even though all five Miami County commissioners approved a resolution during a special meeting Thursday, July 2, which makes wearing a mask or facial covering in public a strong suggestion but not a mandatory requirement, overruling the governor’s executive order.

The County Commission was given the authority by the recently passed House Bill 2016, which allows county commissions to issue orders that are less stringent than provisions of a statewide executive order.

The commissioners clarified that individual cities, school districts and businesses in Miami County may choose to set their own mask requirements, and Paola became the latest to do so at the July 14 council meeting.

Three people spoke in favor of the mask mandate and six spoke against it during the public comment session. Paola City Clerk Stephanie Marler also read submitted emails from residents who voiced opinions on both sides of the debate.

Seating was limited inside the Paola Justice Center meeting room because chairs were spread out for social distancing. Only 10 members of the public were allowed to be seated inside the room at a time, and the rest were kept outside in the entryway and called in when it was their turn to speak.

Attendees who weren’t wearing a mask were given one and informed by city officials that even though the mask mandate had not yet been approved, the city has the authority to require masks inside city facilities.

One woman stood at the open door throughout the meeting and held up signs featuring statements such as “No masks” and “Masks do nothing except keeping you from breathing properly.”

Vickie Vetter Scruggs spoke out against the requirement of masks.

“Breathing fresh air is our God-given right,” Scruggs said. “My health is my responsibility, not the government’s responsibility.”

Michelle Kaiser, who owns Town Square Event Design in Paola, teared up as she talked about her love for the community and her concern about what a mask requirement would do to her already struggling event business.

She said she typically has 65 to 75 weddings a year, but she has only had four so far this year. She said she doesn’t want to fear law enforcement being called if wedding guests aren’t wearing masks or have a situation where the father of the bride is kicked out for not wearing a mask.

Debbie and Bill Mize also both spoke against requiring masks.

Debbie said local shop owners are going to lose their business if masks are required.

“People don’t want to shop when they see a mask,” Debbie said.

Bill said the current number of COVID-19 cases in Miami County (84) are not enough to support a mask requirement.

“I think we’re sort of overreacting,” he said.

Linda Johnston, who operates a CBD American Shaman shop in Paola, said she can see both sides of the issue, but she asked the council members to allow people to choose for themselves and avoid making a mandate that will promote further animosity.

“I have a choice to take care of my health, and you have a choice to take care of your health,” she told the council members. “This is just dividing people further and further.”

Zack Hamm of Paola spoke in favor of the mask mandate. He compared the current situation to the plot of the movie “Jaws,” in which the mayor was more concerned about commerce than people.

“Masks protect other people from you,” Hamm said. “I don’t understand how this is an invasion of our freedom.”

Veterinarian doctors Allen and Sarah Baldridge also spoke in favor of requiring masks.

“It is no inconvenience,” Sarah said. “I don’t want to see Paola having thousands of cases.”

Some community members spoke without taking one side or another. Paola USD 368 Superintendent Matt Meek said he sympathized with the council members and realized it was a difficult decision.

“There’s no winners or losers in this,” Meek said. “I’ve never seen anything as divisive.”

Meek only asked that, regardless of the decision made, flexibility be given to the school district because wearing masks may be a requirement to safely reopen schools.

New city manager Sid Fleming also read a statement about the requirement of masks.

“Sometimes leading requires us to provide what is needed, not necessarily what is wanted,” he said.

Each council member spoke before the final vote was taken.

Smail said he is a staunch supporter of masks, and he said not requiring them could be just as detrimental to the businesses because he’s heard from people who won’t shop if masks aren’t required.

“We need to protect our citizens,” he said.

Nickelson said multiple medical professionals, including the local Health Officer Dr. Donald Banks, support the wearing of masks, and he wishes everyone would willingly wear one to help protect each other.

“It should be a non-political issue,” Nickelson said. “As a citizen of the United States, I’m disappointed in us as a whole that we even have to consider a mask mandate.”

Upshaw said he talked to the county health director and learned that only 24 residents of Paola have tested positive, with 12 being inside the city limits and 12 outside. With it being such a small percentage of the population, he said he could not support a mask requirement.

“I just have a real problem with us mandating it,” he said.

House said she struggled to find the right answer on the issue and ultimately decided to vote based on the feelings of the majority of her constituents who contacted her.

“I don’t feel like there’s a good way to get this right,” she said, adding that she respects all of her fellow council members and realizes that each one is trying to do what they feel is best for the community.

She also encouraged Paola residents to support local businesses regardless of the mask decision.

Before casting the tiebreaking vote, Stuteville said everyone can help slow the spread of the virus by social distancing, washing their hands and wearing a mask.

“It’s such a small thing to wear a mask,” she said. “I care about each and every one of you.”

The council members also got some legal advice from City Attorney Lee Tetwiler. Tetwiler reminded them, and the audience members, that the ordinance mirrors the state executive order in mandating that masks be worn in public places, but it does not pertain to private gatherings. He said, in his opinion, a wedding at Town Square would be a private gathering, whereas a public space would be a business in which customers can freely come and go.

Masks also are not required if people can maintain a distance of 6 feet apart.

There are also several exemptions to the mask requirement, including children age 5 or under, people with a medical or mental health condition and people who are hearing impaired.

The city’s mask requirement will go into effect once the ordinance is published in The Miami County Republic on Wednesday, July 22.

When the council members realized that was the day of the annual Rotary Fair Parade, they briefly considered delaying publication but then decided to possibly use the parade as an opportunity to spread education about the new mask requirement.

Tetwiler confirmed that city police officers will not be writing tickets for people not wearing masks at the fair parade.

The ordinance states that the goal of the city is to educate the public and businesses about the need to wear masks, but it does also state that any person, business, organization or non-profit association identified by the city to be in violation of the ordinance on more than two occasions shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no less than $25 upon the first cited violation, no less than $50 upon the second cited violation and no less than $100 upon a third or subsequent cited violation.

An official sunset was not placed on the ordinance, but the council members agreed that the mask requirement is designed to be temporary and not permanent.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or brian.mccauley@miconews.com.

(2) comments

Elembytes

I wish people would truly get the facts and realize that this virus is unlike any mankind has seen before and we are learning daily about it and how it is mutating and changing and how it behaves. As such the mask debate has also changed and wearing a mask does in fact protect the user as well as others around them. This is being proven and shown to be fact. Therefore wearing one is not about civil liberty or rights it’s about doing the right thing for one another. Something American’s are failing at. We are told to LOVE one ANOTHER it’s not going to hurt you to wear a mask. It’s temporary and it’s not taking anyone’s “God given right to breathe fresh air”, away. People need to realize we need to do the right thing. Covid-numbers are rising at a alarming rate. How can we open schools with such high numbers? We need to get the curve bent as we did in April and May. Otherwise we are in big trouble. Look what is going around our Country and learn from others. We are to use common sense and wisdom. Paola did the right move and the County Commissioner's made a very poor judgmental call in their recent votes. Wake up America!

under duress

[angry] so our illustrious mayor has taken it upon herself to mandate that the citizens who elected her for how many years now need to serve her and her interests rather than serve those who elected her..

our county officials who were also elected by the citizens has also decided that they need to mandate masks and enforce unlawful decisions on those who elected them to serve and protect the citizens from these unlawful rulings and decisions.

i guess now our rights are suspended as well..

the business owners went unheard.

the public went unheard.

hmm so theres talk of unlawful fines being putting on us as well.

i will remind those reading this that theres an election coming up..

based on this situation we can see who needs to go..

we have elected people on the ballot who have decided not to serve the ones who elected them.

they think we work for them when they work for us..

this is a sad day indeed that if this mask wearing is mandated the have suspended our rights as well and the sheriffs office and police department no longer serve or protect the ppl who elected them and neither do the county and city council members..are the doing this in fear of not getting any stimulus money from the state?

we dont need it..it is not helping anyone and it is putting those who take it in more debt.

nobody anywhere is saying that your debts are wiped clean..

didnt Osawatomie refuse the aid during the flood of 2007 because of the debt it would incur? didnt the the entire state of Kansas refuse the stimulus from bush for that reason?

didnt the state of Kansas opt out of medicare expansion because of this?

now suddenly under the democrat governor everything has changed?

federal funding for schools is only less than .o5 % of the entire budget for the schools.everything else is done through tax levies..

theres no excuse for this not at all!!

vote these leaders out..boycott their businesses..they boycotted us!!

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