“Blatant noncompliance” has been the only problem with an ordinance that requires most people to wear face masks in buildings open to the public in Parsons.
The city commission approved the ordinance in a July 6 meeting to help fight the spread of COVID-19, and it took effect on July 9. The ordinance included a two-week education period when it wasn’t enforced, but since July 23 individuals not wearing masks in indoor places of public access can face a fine. Violators at first will be warned, followed by a ticket that could be forgiven by paying a $15 processing fee. Upon the third violation, individuals could be fined $50.
City commissioners discussed the ordinance in a Thursday work session, when Commissioner Leland Crooks said blatant noncompliance has been the only problem so far.
Businesses are required to post signs at their entrances to notify the public that masks must be worn inside. Additionally, employees who work in spaces open to the public must be masked.
Crooks said businesses that had to be shut down in the early days of the pandemic seem to be more compliant because they don’t want to be forced to close again if COVID-19 cases spike. Some of the businesses that remained open, however, aren’t complying, and that bothers Crooks.
“They sacrificed nothing, and those other businesses put it all on the line,” he said.
Crooks warned that the noncompliant businesses could face liability issues if employees contract COVID-19. Republicans in Congress are trying to protect businesses from lawsuits, but Crooks noted that only companies putting forth a good-faith effort to protect customers and employees would be protected under proposed legislation. Ignoring local laws isn’t acting in good faith, he said. Crooks especially was disturbed by convenience stores disregarding the law.
Crooks’ message to noncompliant businesses was simple: “You need to put the signs up. You need to get masks on your people.”
Crooks, who owns Grand Rental Station, said none of his customers have complained about the mask requirement at his store. Mayor Jeff Perez, owner of Katy Golf Course, and Verlyn Bolinger, a Farm Bureau Financial Services agent, also said it hasn’t been an issue at their businesses. Perez said no one has said they wouldn’t go into the golf course’s clubhouse if they had to wear a mask.
Commissioner Kevin Cruse said 90% of the people he sees in public are wearing masks where it’s required. Of those who don’t, four out of five think the mask requirement violates their civil rights. Cruse said he tells those people it’s not about them, but about protecting others’ safety. Some conversations he has had didn’t start well, but most have ended well.
“It’s been pretty well accepted, I think,” Cruse said.
Commissioner Tom Shaw said the mask ordinance has raised awareness in the community. He also said one person told him that when a person operates a business, they have become a community leader and should show a sense of responsibility.
Shaw said a lack of education can’t be blamed on noncompliance because most people have heard the reasoning behind wearing masks.
“There are some things you can’t fix, and maybe this is one of them, but I appreciate everybody who is doing the responsible thing,” Shaw said.
Shaw said he would do his best to avoid businesses not requiring masks because he cares about the people in Parsons.
As of Monday evening, Parsons police had not ticketed anyone for noncompliance, and there have only been a few complaints about people not following the law.
Police Chief Robert Spinks said the police dispatch has received no calls regarding the ordinance. The police have received three emailed complaints, however, they were outside the scope of the law. For example, Spinks said, one person complained that someone was not masked while walking a dog on a trail. The ordinance doesn’t require people to wear masks outside when social distancing is possible.
Spinks said his department has contacted a corporate headquarters about a local business not following the law. Five minutes after talking to a vice president with the company, the local business began complying. Spinks said the police department may contact other corporate headquarters or franchise offices about noncompliance. Companies don’t want to be associated with violating laws, so that should alleviate the problem, Spinks said. The police department also may send warning letters to local businesses prior to taking further action.
The police department’s newly revamped website, parsonspd.com, includes information about the ordinance along with a PDF for complaints. The PDF must be downloaded, filled out and emailed to or dropped off at the police station. Spinks said the department is trying to create a form that can be completed online.
Crooks said it’s clear that the city won’t get 100% compliance from the public, but full compliance from businesses should be expected.
Although it was passed on a 5-0 vote, Perez said he realizes the ordinance was and remains controversial to some people.
“But it’s the law, period,” he said.
Perez added that the community needs to be united to make the ordinance work to slow the spread of COVID-19.