The Parsons Police Department has issued only one citation for violation of the city’s mask ordinance, but more business inspections will be made.

Police Chief Robert Spinks told city commissioners on Thursday that an owner of Olson’s Ace Hardware was ticketed for not complying with the ordinance that commissioners approved in early July. The ordinance requires most people to wear masks in public areas except outside when social distancing is possible. It also mandates businesses to post signs telling customers that masks must be worn inside their buildings, and businesses need to require their employees to wear masks when they are in areas accessible by the public.

Although most businesses in town are complying with the ordinance, a few have resisted, and the ordinance has been the subject of some controversy among the public.

The ordinance was only lightly enforced until the week of Aug. 17, when Spinks announced inspections would begin. On Thursday Spinks said police officers have inspected 70 businesses since then. Seven of those failed to pass inspection. The police plan to reinspect those businesses next week. They include Pizzo’s Restaurant, Cosmic Castle, Casey’s, Bordertown II, Horton’s Pizza Plus, All Seasons Floral and Gifts and Olson’s Ace Hardware. All of those businesses received warnings.

Spinks said an owner of Ace Hardware was cited because the business was found to be in noncompliance upon an officer’s arrival after a citizen complaint. That followed a warning given during an inspection. Ben and Beth Ryan own Olson’s Ace Hardware as well as All Seasons Floral. Spinks didn’t specify in Thursday’s meeting which Ryan was cited.

The police received five other calls from people reporting individuals or businesses violating the ordinance. Four were business complaints, Spinks said, with Ace Hardware being reported twice. Police found no violations on one report and because of call volume related to other issues the business had closed on the day of the other report by the time an officer was free. Braum’s was reported once, but officers found no violations. A resident also complained about the Parsons post office, but it was closed before an officer could arrive to check.

Spinks said no one has filled out a formal complaint form, which can be downloaded from parsonspd.com. One woman had thought about filling out a complaint on Ace Hardware. Spinks said there was a minor disturbance at the store involving the mask ordinance, and the woman was deciding whether to pursue the issue on her own or file a complaint.

Commissioner Leland Crooks thanked the chief and his force for enforcing the ordinance, saying it’s not a pleasant job. Spinks responded by saying it’s probably less unpleasant than the volume and content of the messages the commission deals with on the issue.

“Most of them aren’t very nice,” Commissioner Kevin Cruse said.

Crooks said there are four hot spots for coronavirus in the United States now, and Kansas is one of them. The state has one of the most rapidly accelerating case counts in the country, he said.

“Ninety percent of the state bypassed the governor’s mask order. It’s a proven fact by now that masks are effective. There’s no question,” Crooks said.

Cruse said Labette County is fortunate to not be a hot spot, but with adjacent Crawford County having a high incidence rate, Labette County could be affected if people don’t remain vigilant.

The mask ordinance is set to expire on Oct. 1, but the commission can extend it. Cruse said it’s possible the commission could let it expire, but the public would have to continue to fight against spread of the coronavirus by continuing to wear masks, maintaining social distance, avoiding big crowds, washing their hands frequently and avoiding touching their face.

Mayor Jeff Perez, however, is not sure if the commission should allow the ordinance to sunset.

“I’m not sold on Oct. 1,” he said.

There are a lot of “obstacles and unknowns,” Perez said, such as schools being in session and sporting events starting back up. Dr. Ben Legler, a Parsons physician, told him that the commission should stay the course on the mask ordinance, especially with flu season approaching, because wearing masks is the only proven effective way to curtail the virus. 

Commissioner Verlyn Bolinger said he has heard a lot of encouragement from people, but several have said they want the ordinance rescinded.

“I still think we’re doing the best thing for the citizens of Parsons with the masks,” Bolinger said.

Beth Ryan started an online petition on change.org calling for the commission to rescind the ordinance, garnering 1,401 supporters by late Thursday evening. A competing online petition in support of the ordinance has gathered 709 signatures. However, neither petition requires Parsons residency to participate.

Those who violate the ordinance will at first receive a warning. A second offense may bring a citation, but the ticket could be dismissed if the person agreed to follow the law and pay a $15 administration fee. Third and subsequent violations could result in a $50 fine with $90 court costs. Violators could also face arrest and booking.

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