Prairie Village will explore ordinance to require facial coverings in public, though major questions about enforcement linger

With four confirmed COVID-19 cases among city staff, Councilmember Sollie Flora said she was concerned about not requiring masks to be worn on cardio equipment at Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center. Photo credit Elvert Barnes. Used under a Creative Commons license.

The Prairie Village City Council on Monday directed city staff to explore creation of an ordinance that would require residents and visitors to wear facial coverings — masks, bandanas, scarves or something similar — in indoor businesses and other public spaces.

Councilmember Jori Nelson introduced the proposal, saying she believed it was in residents’ interest to require facial coverings as more businesses reopen starting May 11. Nelson said face coverings during COVID-19 are the equivalent of covering your nose or mouth when sneezing or coughing, or waiting 24 hours after a fever to return to work or school: It’s most effective if everyone does it.

Ward 1 Councilmember Jori Nelson made the proposal, saying she believed it was an important step for public safety as more businesses reopen. File photo.

“My hope is that it will be as common as ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service,’ but now it will be ‘no mask,’” Nelson said. “At least until the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or the state has [said] with reasonable certainty that no mask is recommended, along with the hopes that a vaccination will be available soon.”

But several members of the governing body raised concerns about the idea. Mayor Eric Mikkelson said there are three obstacles he sees that he said he wants to be convinced on before he considers supporting such an ordinance.

They were:

  • Expecting Prairie Village police officers to enforce such an ordinance is “a huge ask” that could undermine public trust in the department
  • The issue of inconsistency between cities and added confusion for the city’s visitors
  • Lack of obvious rationale as to why Prairie Village city needs to be adding a requirement different than the rest of Johnson County

“I’m not there yet, [that] this is a good thing to do,” Mikkelson said. “Notwithstanding, I am very confident, 100% of us all want to find the right thing to do to save lives and keep Prairie Village as healthy as possible.”

Nelson said that in Gov. Kelly’s most recent address, she encouraged individual communities to take additional steps deemed appropriate to stem the spread. This potential ordinance would fall in line with the city’s other public health ordinances such as the non-smoking ordinance passed in 2008, Nelson said. Enforcement strategies would focus on educating the public about face coverings, and move into citations if necessary, she said.

Employers would have to supply employees with non-medical grade masks to be worn at work, and businesses would also be asked to have customers adhere to the six-foot social distancing safety measures as well, Nelson said.

Nelson originally made a motion that the city council direct City Attorney David Waters to create an ordinance requiring “masks and other face coverings in businesses where the public is invited.” That motion was amended, on a 10 to 2 vote, to direct Waters to draft the same ordinance “to the maximum extent legally permissible.” Councilmembers Courtney McFadden and Inga Selders opposed the amendment.

After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, the city council approved the motion as amended on a 11 to 1 vote, with McFadden voting against it. A final vote will be taken at the May 18 city council meeting, or at a special called city council meeting before then if the draft is finished sooner.