Advance voting for the Aug. 4 primary began Wednesday, July 15, at the former Miami County Sheriff’s Office, located at 118 S. Pearl St. in Paola.
The former sheriff’s office was selected — instead of the usual site across the street at the Miami County Administration Building — to help mitigate the COVID-19 risk, County Clerk/Election Officer Janet White said. The new voting site was prepped with safety measures and social distancing protocols as the clerk’s office and its volunteer poll workers prepare to handle what could be a record number of voters for an August primary.
July 15 also was the first day ballots were put into the mail. The clerk’s office has received nearly 1,300 requests for mail ballots — more than any other primary in recent memory. The deadline to apply for advance ballots to be mailed is July 28. The clerk's office recommends that people request the ballots now, rather than waiting until the July 28 deadline, to ensure they are returned to the clerk's office in time to be counted.
With Louisburg and Prairie View school bond elections on the Tuesday, Aug. 4, ballot, as well as two contested races for state House seats and one county office, White is anticipating a larger in-person turnout for the primary as well.
Samantha Poetter and Clifford Blackmore, both Paola Republicans, will meet in the primary for the House District 6 race to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Jene Vickrey, who chose not to run for reelection. The Louisburg Republican served 28 years in the House.
In House District 5 primary, incumbent Rep. Mark Samsel, a Wellsville Republican, will face Garnett Republican Mark Powls.
Incumbent White, a Beagle Republican, will face challenger Matthew Mercer, a Republican from Louisburg, for the County Clerk’s office in the primary.
The clerk’s office is offering additional hours and extending hours in an effort to minimize the need for lines at the polling site to also help mitigate the COVID-19 risk, White said.
The advance voting location will be open during regular business hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday until Friday, July 31.
The advance voting site also will be open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on three consecutive Saturdays, July 18, July 25 and Aug. 1.
The location also will remain open after business hours until 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 23, and Thursday, July 30. Advance voting will be available the day before the primary from 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Aug. 3.
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.
PAOLA — The Miami County Fair has a bit of a different look this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but activities are still scheduled to take place throughout the week.
The carnival will open Wednesday, July 22, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Wallace Park, and the 72nd annual Miami County Fair Parade sponsored by the Paola Rotary Club will begin at 7 p.m. July 22 in downtown Paola. This year’s parade theme is “There’s No Place Like Home.”
After the parade, spectators may want to head to the fairgrounds in Wallace Park to watch the draft horse pull. A free will donation will be collected.
The fun will continue Thursday, July 23, with the 4-H/FFA swine show at 9 a.m., King Arthur Baking Contest at 6 p.m. and Mutton Bustin’ at 7 p.m.
More activities are scheduled for Friday, July 24, including the 4-H project sale at 4 p.m., 4-H livestock sale at 6 p.m., and rodeo at 7:30 p.m.
The rodeo will continue Saturday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m., and it will also be the last night for the carnival.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, all open class exhibits, with the exception of bucket calves and beef cattle, were canceled this year. Also, the 4-H Concession Stand will be closed, but other food vendors will still be on hand.
The royalty pageant also will not take place this year.
Some events, such as the 4-H Fashion Revue, 4-H Pet Show and 4-H/FFA Rabbit Show were changed to a virtual format this year.
Hand washing and sanitizing stations will be located throughout the fairgrounds during the fair.