OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners began discussing the governor’s recent mandate for Kansans to wear face masks in public starting Friday.

Commissioners eventually cut off the discussion because they wanted to review information Gov. Laura Kelly is to release on Thursday about the executive order. They also wanted to hear from Labette County Health Department Administrator Lisa Stivers and the department’s medical director, Dr. Sonya Culver, on Monday before deciding how to react to the mandate. Commissioners Lonie Addis and Doug Allen talked about the issue Tuesday. Allen phoned in to the meeting. Commissioner Fred Vail did not attend Tuesday’s session. 

On Monday, Gov. Kelly announced Kansans will have to wear masks in stores, shops, restaurants and places where people cannot maintain a 6-foot distance. Kelly said the attorney general’s office will enforce the statewide mandate.

Charlie Morse, Labette County Emergency Management director, said he’s received calls on the face mask issue Tuesday, and a beauty salon operator wanted to know if the county would provide masks starting Friday.

Allen, who practices law in California, noted that violations of the governor’s order to wear a mask were civil issues, not criminal matters. He also noted that the county could mitigate governor orders after consulting with public health officials. County Counselor Brian Johnson told Allen he was correct on both points.

“So we’re not even certain what the order is, what the content of the order is or what the length of time the order is for,” Allen said.

He proposed delaying discussion until more information was available.

“Just make it clear to the public right now that this is the governor’s order. She hasn’t bothered to tell us what the content is with any great specificity. We’ll know more Thursday and then consult with our public health folks and see if we’re going to follow it, mitigate it or what,” he said.

Allen asked if masks would be required for school students. Morse said he would know more Thursday. The conjecture is that masks will be required when school starts.

Addis asked where the schools would get so many masks.

Debbie Lamb, Parsons city manager, was attending the meeting, along with Dr. John Wyrick, USD 506 superintendent, Sheriff Darren Eichinger, Undersheriff Clifford Davis, County Attorney Stephen Jones, Register of Deeds Julie Becker, 911 Director Brandy Grassl and Stivers.

Lamb said the city of Parsons ordered 5,000 masks Monday night and was told the masks were available.

Morse said some counties have requested masks through the state/FEMA.

Wyrick said later that USD 506 is buying 3,000 cloth masks for $6 each and will distribute them to students at the beginning of the day, collect them at the end of the day, wash them and hand them out again the next day. He said the county’s four school superintendents will meet later in July to discuss how the school year will work in Labette County. 

Addis asked about enforcing the mask-wearing mandate. Allen noted again it would be a civil matter. He chided the governor’s office for coming up with a general rule and making local government implement it and enforce it. He said mask wearing is not a bad idea as long as there is a valid scientific basis for it, “if it’s going to help mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Stivers also reported that the county has 59 cases of COVID-19 and 28 of them are active and in isolation, one hospitalized. There are 69 contacts of those positive cases who are in quarantine.

Addis also noted that Stivers would be the only person in the county to release numbers of COVID-19 cases from this point forward. A misunderstanding last week allowed incorrect case numbers to be released relating to the outbreak at Chetopa Manor. Addis took responsibility for his role in the mistake because of the pressure he placed on Morse to get numbers out as soon as possible. 

“Mistakes were made. Lesson learned. We’ll move forward,” Morse said.


Getting millions

Labette County is to receive $3.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief money by mid-July, and commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution to participate in the SPARK program (Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas Task Force).

Commissioners discussed the money with Morse, but Morse and Johnson are still waiting for clarification because rules on what the money can be spent on seem to be moving. In the early round of talks about the money, spending it on anything related to COVID-19 would be permissible. That’s no longer the case. The county also has until Aug. 15 to develop a comprehensive plan for spending the money. There are two deadlines by which the money must be spent, Sept. 15 and Dec. 30, which is also creating some confusion.

Morse and Johnson hoped for more clarification this week in discussions with state officials.

Johnson said the state’s SPARK committee first looks at counties’ spending plans followed by a SPARK subcommittee. These checks are to make sure the spending is allowed. Counties are on the hook for any money that’s misspent, Johnson said. 

“Nothing like this ever comes without a lot of strings attached,” Addis said.

Allen hoped the state would extend the deadlines because the spending rules are not clear.

“We’ll just have to do the best we can,” Allen said.


In other matters, the commission:

— Heard from Brandy Grassl, 911 director, that the premium for an insurance policy for first responders was lower than it has been in recent years. Generally, the premium is divided by the departments and commissioners agreed to divide the $1,212 cost among the seven agencies this time as well.

— Met with Scott Thompson and Bob Booker of Class LTD about the agency’s 2021 budget request. Thompson said Class has faced budget cuts from the state, but the agency that provides services to clients with developmental disabilities in four counties will not ask for additional money from the county, which is facing its own financial challenges. In the current budget year, the county paid out property tax collections equal to less than a mill to support Class, or .795 of a mill. That brought in about $95,000. The county’s valuation increased this year so the same mill rate will bring in a bit more cash, $106,000, in 2020. Commissioners will start budget work next week. 

— Approved two parcel search agreements, one for Mid-America Appraisal Inc. and the other for Community National Bank and Trust. The annual agreements cost $225 and allow qualifying entities to search appraisal information through an online portal.

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