PAOLA – Paola City Council members likely will remove the city’s existing mask mandate at their next meeting Tuesday, April 13, based on comments they made at a work session Tuesday, April 6.
Paola’s mask ordinance was first approved last July by a 3-2 vote, following a lengthy and emotional public comment session during which community members made impassioned pleas on both sides of the debate.
The council took action after the Miami County Commission at that time overruled the governor’s executive order establishing a statewide mask mandate and approved a resolution making masks a strong suggestion but not a mandatory requirement.
The commissioners clarified that individual cities, school districts and businesses in Miami County may choose to set their own mask requirements, and Paola was one that chose to implement the mandate.
Last November, Gov. Laura Kelly issued another statewide mask mandate, and this time the Miami County Commission decided to not opt out of it.
That statewide mask mandate expired March 31, and Gov. Kelly’s attempt to get a new statewide mask mandate implemented was revoked by a 5-2 vote of the state’s Legislative Coordinating Council on April 1.
Paola City Council members have been reviewing the city’s mask mandate during each monthly meeting since it was instated, and it was a primary topic of discussion during the council’s work session Tuesday, April 6, at the Paola Fire Station.
Council member Trent Upshaw voted against the mask mandate last July, and since its implementation he has asked that it be reviewed during each month’s council meeting. He previously has expressed concern that there was no definitive timeline set for the mandate or specific guidelines established to determine when it might be lifted.
During the April 6 work session, Upshaw said now is the time to lift the mask mandate because there is no longer one in place at the county or state level.
“I think it gets harder and harder for us to justify it,” Upshaw said.
Council member LeAnne Shields agreed.
“I’m voting to do away with masks,” Shields said. “If anybody wants to wear them, they can choose to wear them.”
Council member Leigh House said she’s sticking with the strategy she used last July when she voted against the mask ordinance. She said she is listening to the majority of her constituents and voting as they ask her to. House said she has heard from people who were in favor of masks last summer, but this time they want the mask mandate lifted.
“I personally feel it’s time to end it,” House said. “I think people are being personally responsible.”
The opinion was not unanimous though.
Council member Dave Smail, who voted last July to implement the mask mandate, asked his fellow council members to hold on a little bit longer, especially since cases are reportedly on the rise in other parts of the country.
“If we can make it one more month, we can get over the hump,” Smail said. “I want to see us not have to put them back on two or three months down the road.”
Smail said he would be ready to vote to remove the mask mandate during the May 11 council meeting.
Paola Mayor Artie Stuteville, who cast the tie-breaking vote last July to implement the mask mandate, also expressed some concerns about lifting the mandate. She said students who have to wear masks at school could be exposed in public places if the mandate is lifted, and she said they are more likely to now gather together in groups with the weather warming up.
No official decision could be made at the work session, but based on the discussion, City Manager Sid Fleming said an ordinance would be drafted to remove the mask mandate, and the council members are expected to vote on the ordinance during their meeting Tuesday, April 13.
Even if the mandate is lifted, local businesses will still be allowed to implement their own mask requirements. Fleming also said he’d like to still require masks in certain city buildings, such as the Paola Community Center, because of the possibility of large groups gathering there. A majority of the council agreed to give Fleming the go-ahead to come up with a mask plan for city buildings, regardless of how the vote goes on the city’s mask mandate.