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Sumner Commissioners are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to the new Governor executive order coming out on Thursday

by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — There is an old saying “don’t put the cart before the horse.”

That was the theme of the bi-weekly Sumner County Commissioner meeting with Sumner Health Officer Laura Rettig and Emergency Management Director James Fair.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly released a statement Monday that she will be issuing a statewide executive order mandating that people must wear masks mandatory on Thursday (see story here). But the details on the executive order are unknown to both the commissioners and the local health officials.

“We learned the same time everyone else did,” Rettig said of the governor’s press release on Monday. “I’m making no recommendations until we see what those guidelines are.”

The commissioners agreed to take no action today at the courthouse during their regular Tuesday meeting. They agreed to reconvene with Rettig and Fair on Monday at 10:30 a.m. when they learn more details on the order.

“I’ll tell you one thing, if she mandates wearing a mask, then I’ll be a criminal,” said Sumner County District One Commissioner Steve Warner.

Rettig also announced another patient tested positive for COVID-19 bringing the total case number to 12 for Sumner County. She said she knows nothing about the details of that person, learning about it this morning.

There were questions abound for the commissioners including whether or not they have the authority to overrule the mandate, whether the mandate is even enforceable, and whether or not county employees and those coming into the courthouse should receive masks.

Rettig said her position is to only “recommend” what the Governor will be putting out. As far as enforcing the rules she doesn’t have that authority. She states:

“The only mandatory thing I deal with is with travel restrictions where people travel to high outbreak states such as Florida and Arkansas. Upon their return, there is a 14-day quarantine for those people. Also, if a person who has fallen ill or is contagious with the virus and is blatantly breaking the rules, I’ll reluctantly issue an order that this person needs to stay inside and being quarantined.

As far as this new order being mandatory, from my understanding it still has to go through the legislature and proper channels to get some kind of approval.”

Sumner County Commission Attorney Jack Potucek said it will also need to pass the test of the attorney general’s office.

There was some confusion about whether the commissioners had the authority themselves to overrule the governor’s order.

Wellington resident Kevin Dodds, an adamant critic of the Governor’s mask mandate order, stated that the commissioners have the authority to do so based on actions by the Governor and legislature a few weeks ago.

Potucek said he will study that further and come back with a recommendation to the commissioners.

The commissioners agreed once the executive order is released and the details are known, they will come up with more answers.

Commissioner Jim Newell said he thought it would be in the county’s best interest to supply masks to its employees and those coming into the courthouse. That could be quite an undertaking with the county purchasing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 masks, Fair responded.

“I’m guessing you get around 150 people going into the courthouse a day,” Fair said. “Of course, you have to watch out when word gets around that the county is giving away free masks for anyone going into the courthouse, you’ll get people going into the courthouse just to get a free mask.”

Rettig was asked at this time what is her recommendation to businesses.

“I will do what I have been doing all along and make recommendations,” Rettig said. “And my recommendations are that customers exercise proper social distancing and to wear masks if that is recommended by the state. But ultimately, the decision will be up to the business owners.”

Then there is the question of whether or not local law enforcement can enforce such a mask mandate.

Sumner County Sheriff Captain Mike Westmoreland stated that the executive order is a civil matter and not a criminal one. So law enforcement can’t arrest or even fine anyone not wearing a mask but only make recommendations.

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