The city of Fairway is joining three other northeast Johnson County cities in implementing a new citywide mask mandate.
In response to several Fairway-based medical professionals requesting action be taken, the city council in a special meeting Thursday approved a mask mandate to take effect Tuesday, Jan. 18 and be in place to Friday, Feb. 18.
The ordinance passed on a 6-1 vote, with Jason Rogers voting in opposition.
Read the full ordinance approved by the Fairway City Council here.
Although the city called a special meeting one day after Mission, Prairie Village and Roeland Park all adopted mask mandates, Fairway Mayor Melanie Hepperly said the meeting was not a bandwagon decision.
City Administrator Nathan Nogelmeier explained it was a matter of timing: Ordinances are required to be published in a city’s designated paper, in this case The Legal Record, which only publishes on Tuesdays with a deadline of Friday at noon.
The meeting was scheduled for Thursday evening to ensure as many voices could participate as possible, he said.
Hepperly said she herself does not support mandates, but she knew the issue needed to be moved forward after hearing from residents who are in the medical field.
She said the city takes every request from residents seriously. She also recognized health care workers dedication the last two years.
“Their actions and functions on a daily basis have been, in my opinion, heroic,” Hepperly said. “They have performed their responsibilities, above and beyond, and are looking out for our community and everyone else that crosses their door. So, we want to thank them for this — and I do that personally from the bottom of my heart.”
Residents, businesses split
Nogelmeier said he reached out to several businesses in Fairway about their thoughts on a mandate and received responses from five. Of those, two were in favor, two were opposed and one did not want to give a position on a mandate.
Additionally, he said of the emails the city has received from residents, the response was fairly split.
At Thursday’s meeting, four Fairway residents, including Chris Barber, expressed strong opposition to a mask mandate.
Barber said “mandates like this punish” people like he and his wife who follow medical advice and, as such, are fully vaccinated.
Barber also questioned the effectiveness of the mandate, which — like the other northeast Johnson County mandates — features a number of individual exemptions and does not cover houses of worship.
Resident Ian Bartalos echoed Barber’s sentiments,
“If this was serious, you would shut down every business in the Fairway Shops…,” Bartalos. “Again, you’re band-aiding something at best .”
Bartalos said if residents and businesses are spilt on mask mandates, the city council lacks the political will to approve one.
But five other residents who spoke Thursday, including Christie Befort and Julie Fern, supported a mask mandate.
Fern, who told the city council she is immunocompromised, said a mask mandate is no different than being arrested if she were to walk into Hen House shirtless.
Matt Hastings, a Fairway resident who said he is a physician, said he understands masks are a divisive issue and potentially an inconvenience. He said he and his colleagues in the health care field are struggling and burnt out as a result of the pandemic but begged for people to “hold on a little bit longer.”
“Yeah, [the mask mandate is] not perfect, but it’s something, and I would really hope that our community would really look out for each other and try a little bit longer,” Hastings said. “I really ask my friends, my neighbors, to really step up for me and my colleagues who are looking out for you. Please look out for us, too.”
‘A small sacrifice’
Three governing body members, including the mayor, said they typically oppose mandates. Still, a majority of the city council expressed support for the mandate.
Councilmember Jason Rogers asked what the city is “trying to avoid.” Rogers also asked about the baseline for implementing masks since a majority of the discussion centered around anecdotal evidence from residents who are medical professionals.
Others, like Councilmember Joe Blevin — who said he doesn’t support mandates — said the city council needs to think about taking action when some are “putting themselves and the public at risk.”
Councilmember Jenna Brofsky said she looks at the issue practically. Residents are asking for the city to take action, and even if it doesn’t solve all the problems, it’s one thing the city of Fairway can do, she said.
“I think it’s a small sacrifice that we can give to our residents and to our community,” Brofsky.
Ultimately, he city council approved the mask mandate in a 6 to 1 vote, with Rogers voting in opposition.