Roeland Park passes new mask resolution but stops short of mandate

Kansas mask study

The city of Roeland Park is again encouraging residents to wear masks in most indoor settings, but a divided city council on Monday rejected a proposed ordinance that would have mandated masks and levied fines for violators. File photo.

With Johnson County at an increasingly “high” level of community risk from COVID-19, the Roeland Park City Council passed a resolution Monday night that encourages — but does not require — wearing face masks in indoor public places.

In a separate vote, an evenly split city council rejected a proposed ordinance that would have mandated masks and also levied fines for violators.

The less formal resolution encouraging mask-wearing, which passed by a 7-1 vote, has no expiration date and imposes no penalties for violations.

Still, if a business patron refuses to wear a face mask and refuses to leave the premises, a business owner can ask police to remove the patron under the city’s existing trespassing law.

This latest resolution applies to everyone in the city aged 5 and older who can medically tolerate wearing a mask.

With or without vaccination or past COVID infection, they should always wear a mask indoors in public, the resolution says. All masks should fit snugly and cover the nose and mouth.

The resolution does not apply to the following people:

  • Those who are eating or drinking at a restaurant that offers food or beverages
  • Athletes engaged in organized sports if they can maintain a 6-foot distance from others
  • Others engaged in athletics or other activities inside school buildings, who should follow Kansas State High School Activities Association or school guidelines
  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing when the ability to see the mouth is necessary to communicate

County COVID-19 numbers

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment reports on its online COVID-19 dashboard that the county had 367 new cases per 100,000 people and an 11.5% positivity rate for the week ending Dec. 17.

These numbers are up from 139 new cases per 100,000 people and a 6.5% positivity rate a month ago.

Prior mask resolution

Monday’s mask resolution follows the council’s 5-4 vote Nov. 15 to let its prior face mask mandate resolution expire. At the time, Roeland Park was the last city in Johnson County such a mandate in place.

That resolution had taken effect Aug. 24 and was initially set to expire Oct. 19, but the city council later extended the expiration date.

The order required masks for all people indoors in places accessible to the public or in crowded outdoor public places, with some exceptions. It imposed no monetary fine for violations.

Roeland Park was the second Johnson County city to enact a mask mandate in the absence of a countywide order after Prairie Village imposed one on businesses beginning Aug. 24.

The Prairie Village City Council allowed that city’s mandate to expire on Oct. 31.

Ordinance fails

Before voting on Monday’s resolution, the council rejected a proposed face mask ordinance, which would have imposed monetary fines for violations.

That ordinance proposal failed on a 4-4 vote. City code requires at least five votes to pass an ordinance.

Councilmembers Jan Faidley, Jennifer Hill, Kate Raglow and Michael Rebne voted for the proposed mask ordinance.

Councilmembers Tom Madigan, Benjamin Dickens, Trisha Brauer and Michael Poppa voted against it.

City code allows for the mayor to break a tie if he or she supports a measure. But Mayor Mike Kelly on Monday did not cast a tie-breaking vote, he said, because he did not support a new mask mandate.

Kelly said at Monday’s meeting that he was “proud of our 90-plus percent vaccination rate in Roeland Park, and I appreciate that we encourage masking of folks.”

“Personally, I don’t believe mandating it at this time is going to persuade folks that aren’t wearing masks to do so,” Kelly said. “I think our residents and businesses deserve certainty.”

He added: “There are no walls around Roeland Park, and we’re part of a region. … I feel that (it would be sufficient) if we do the right thing and encourage the health and well-being of our residents by funding mitigation strategies and providing this resolution of strong support for masking indoors.”

COVID-19 mitigation steps

The council separately voted 7-1 Monday to adopt a list of COVID mitigation measures, including:

  • Buy KN95 masks or the best masks available for businesses and residents, and buy at-home COVID tests using up to $10,000 (or more if necessary) of federal COVID-19 relief money.
  • Post Facebook messages and send emails on best practices to counteract COVID misinformation.
  • Collaborate with neighboring municipalities to coordinate purchases and educational efforts.

Police Chief John Morris said the department had received no calls about a business patron refusing to wear a mask and leave the premises while the original resolution was in effect.

Madigan said an ordinance would not have been enforceable but would only have been “words.”

But he said that “just because the police weren’t called because of an irate customer does not mean it didn’t happen. You talk to some of these businesses and their people — they have been treated (badly).”

Poppa said a friend’s son “had a gun pulled on him when he was just trying to enforce the mask ordinance” at a Mission restaurant.

Rebne said that the council was “elected to represent public health and the public,” that his “constituency doesn’t include the corporate office of Walmart or Price Chopper” and that the earlier mask resolution hadn’t hurt those and other businesses, which he said had posted record sales this year.

Jerry LaMartina is a freelance journalist who contributes frequently to the Shawnee Mission Post, among other Kansas City-area publications. He can be reached at lamartina.jerry@gmail.com.