A new round of inspections at local businesses to determine if they are following the city’s mask ordinance will include warnings and citations against employees, and customers if needed, Police Chief Robert Spinks said.
Spinks was addressing the city commission on Monday night about the increased enforcement of the mask ordinance that requires people to wear masks in buildings accessible to the public. Businesses must post signs at their entrances informing the public masks are required by ordinance, and they must make their employees wear masks if they work in public areas.
The ordinance was passed in June and has been extended to Dec. 7. The commission almost certainly will approve another extension before then.
Spinks said the first three rounds of inspection have found a compliance rate of well over 90% in the 77 businesses deemed as having public accommodations as in the ordinance. As the local and especially the statewide case numbers rise, Spinks said it’s a good opportunity to educate the public about the ordinance again and enforce it to help reduce mask fatigue. Spinks plans to send letters to all members of the Parsons Chamber of Commerce to inform them of the ordinance requirements. He also will run online notices on the city’s Facebook page and the police department website.
“This will include the ramping up of ongoing business inspections and associated law enforcement,” Spinks said.
Spinks said during the next round of inspections, police officers will warn or cite all employees in violation of the ordinance. Previously only business owners or managers have been warned or fined. A warning is issued for the first offense, followed by a fine of $50 that can be waived by paying a $15 administrative fee. The third offense can result in a $50 fine and $90 in court costs.
If those actions fail to produce a proper level of compliance in the community, Spinks said police officers would inspect businesses during their regular patrols and warn or cite customers as well.
“I do not believe we are at that point – yet,” Spinks said,
Commissioner Kevin Cruse said a lot of people went to a business and didn’t follow the mask mandate, resulting in many more positive cases. He didn’t identify the business. Labette County recorded a jump of 60 new cases in a three-day period last week.
Cruse said Neosho County is moving to a countywide mask mandate after initially resisting it. He thinks Labette County should revisit its decision to opt out of Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask mandate.
“The numbers are increasing, so that means we got to start buckling down even more,” Cruse said.
Still, Cruse said he was “on the fence” about extending the mask ordinance again.
Other commissioners seem ready to extend it.
“I think we need to extend it, and I will leave it at that,” Mayor Jeff Perez said.
“I completely agree,” Commissioner Leland Crooks said.
Spinks said the police department has received very few complaints from the public about violations. Crooks said he receives some complaints and encourages people to file a complaint with the police instead of just telling him.
“I understand people’s reluctance. If you feel you are genuinely at risk somewhere, you should report it,” Crooks said.
Crooks said he is unsure if the mask mandate in Parsons is helping the numbers in all of Labette County, but it seems to be effective in town.
Commissioner Tom Shaw said he thinks that some of the people who resisted the mask mandate because they don’t like being told what to do are now seeing there is merit to wearing a mask to protect themselves and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stated that a face mask protects the wearer after initially saying that it only protects those around the wearer.
Crooks said people are just rolling the dice if they don’t wear a mask. They also are infringing on his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he said.
“This is endlessly frustrating, and I know everyone is really sick of it, but we’ve got to be in this for the long haul,” Crooks said.
Perez, who initiated the ordinance with encouragement from a Parsons resident, said his business, the Katy Golf Course, has had to make sacrifices, some of which weren’t profitable, but he enacted measures to keep himself, his family, employees and customers safer.
The other commissioners commended Perez for his leadership on the mask ordinance, with Crooks saying he has done “phenomenal.”
The current ordinance will expire at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 7. The last ordinance passed that extended the original one also allows the commission to approve extensions by resolution now. The commission could approve a resolution on Dec. 7. Resolutions, unlike ordinances, don’t require publication in the Parsons Sun before becoming effective.
Perez said he would rather vote on the extension during the Dec. 3 work session. City Manager Debbie Lamb said the resolution would not include an expiration date so that commissioners could decide during the work session when it should sunset.