WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita mayor Brandon Whipple held a special meeting Friday at 2 p.m. to discuss and vote on an ordinance concerning mandating the use of masks and or face coverings in public in Wichita.
The ordinance mandates that face coverings are worn when residents are in any public space where social distancing of six feet at all times is not possible. There are exemptions to this mandate, including those with medical conditions, mental health conditions, or disabilities that would preclude them from safely wearing a face covering, customers eating at restaurants and more.
The vote was 4-3, with Mayor Brandon Whipple, Vice Mayor Cindy Claycomb and council members Brandon Johnson and Becky Tuttle voting to approve, and council members James Clendenin, Jeff Blubaugh, and Bryan Frye voting against. The ordinance is effective immediately. The ordinance will sunset on August 11 unless Council votes to extend it or repeal it prior to that date.
“We voted to pass the mask ordinance today,” said council member Cindy Claycomb. “We did a little bit of a disservice to public engagement today. We had 24-hour notice on a holiday. We would have liked to have the public engaged more. And I think it came down to a vote of what each of us believed was best for our community and that’s what you saw on the vote.”
Claycomb says there is a fine in place for not wearing a mask. The first violation is $25, the second is $50, and the third is $100 with court costs associated with each violation.
“Education is first. A fine would be a last resort,” said Claycomb. “Officer discretion would come in as a last resort. We are looking for compliance rather than enforcement. The idea is to try to not fine people.”
The mandatory face mask or face covering in public spaces in Wichita begins immediately.
The ordinance is scheduled right now to sunset on or before August 11, depending on the will of the council. Claycomb said the council will be keeping track of COVID-19 numbers closely and how the local hospitals are doing with COVID-19 response.
The mayor said during the special meeting he felt the need to do something about masks or face coverings in public.
Face coverings can be used in place of a traditional mask in public.
The city ordinance is different from a county commissioner vote. This week the Sedgwick county commission did vote to not make wearing a mask in public mandatory. This city ordinance is similar to what Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued. But there are some differences.
Mayor Brandon Whipple brought medical experts into the special meeting by video to explain why face covering are a good idea. Mayor Whipple said face covering can prevent a spike in COVID-19 numbers and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed if we see a large increase in hospitalizations.
City of Wichita attorney Jennifer Magana explained the ordinance could still be challenged in court. She also said she believes the ordinance is legal as written.
Magana explained Wichita is using the “Home Rule” exception to put the ordinance in place that requires a face covering in public spaces. The ordinance is for Wichita and does not cover Sedgwick County.
Some council members had asked if the ordinance would stand up in court. Some explained the county health board, which is the county commission, had already spoken on the issue of face coverings as mandatory in public.
“Well the (Kansas) Attorney General has actually already given an opinion about House Bill 2016 concerning the governor and any order the Governor may make concerning masks,” said Council Member James Clendenin. “And it’s pretty clear the county has the authority to do what they did.”
Clendenin explained his no vote, saying state law has authority on the issue and that counties were given authority over face coverings and masks.
“We did not have the authority to pass this law,” said Clendenin. “The state leaves that authority to the county. And I asked for an attorney general opinion on that fact. I am hoping he will rule soon.”
Mayor Whipple talked to KSN after the vote.
“Today is a victory in our fight to not close down the economy again and ensure kids can go back to school in the fall,” said Whipple. “Wichita already paid a price for shutting down the economy as much as we did. Wichita needs a fighting chance for our most vulnerable citizens as we see a spike in COVID-19 numbers.”
Wichita police chief Gordon Ramsay has said this week his department will not emphasize enforcement but will talk to the public about education.
The council could choose to extend it or abolish the ordinance at any time.