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If it comes down to a matter of the police department enforcing Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive orders pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic, violators in Parsons would be tried in municipal court.
The Parsons City Commission approved an ordinance on Thursday afternoon that makes violation of the governor’s order or any order issued by Labette County Emergency Management and the Labette County Health Department a city infraction.
Previously, disobeying the orders was a violation of state law that could have been prosecuted in Labette County District Court. The ordinance, which will go into effect upon publication in the Parsons Sun, will allow the offense to be prosecuted in Parsons Municipal Court instead. The municipal court is a more convenient venue for the Parsons Police Department and Parsons residents. Most of the district court cases are now being tried in Oswego.
City Attorney Ross Albertini said passage of the ordinance doesn’t mean police will be cracking down on people right away for not staying at home or attending gatherings with more than 10 people at a time.
“I don’t want to make it sound like we’re going to run out and start writing tickets left and right,” Albertini said.
Albertini said Police Chief Robert Spinks has no plans to instruct officers to pull people over to ensure they are on an errand exempted from the governor’s stay-at-home order.
Spinks did not attend the work session as the city staff limited the number of people in the commission room to 10, and those in attendance were spread apart. While four staff members were in the room for the entire meeting with the five commissioners, three others had to take turns attending. The public is not allowed to attend city meetings, but they are televised on Sparklight and livestreamed on livestream.com.
Albertini said only repeated or major violations would be ticketed by local police.
For example, he said perhaps if a business was open that is not deemed essential, the police would stop in and tell the owner or manager to close the store before issuing a citation.
“We’re not really wanting to go around being very heavy-handed on these things, but this gives us the ability to enforce those on a municipal level,” Albertini said.
Albertini said he would recommend a $25 fine, with a $90 court cost, but the fine would be decided by the municipal judge. Repeat offenders could be fined more heavily.
Commissioner Tom Shaw asked who would be fined if someone was having a barbecue with 10 people and an 11th person showed up. The governor’s order outlaws gatherings of 10 or more people. Albertini said the police probably would break up the gathering, but if they all returned, they all could be fined.
Shaw at first wanted to wait to vote on the ordinance because he hadn’t seen it until the work session. Albertini said it could be put off until Monday’s regular meeting.
“Our police department is not itching to go out and start writing tickets on this,” Albertini said.
After Commissioner Verlyn Bolinger pointed out that police could already issue tickets and that the ordinance only changes the venue of the trial, Shaw joined the other commissioners in voting for the ordinance. Shaw said the ordinance actually would be beneficial to everyone involved, as the violators, just as the police officers, wouldn’t have to go to Oswego for a trial. The court cost for municipal court also is lower than the cost at district court.