In a special meeting this evening, the Sumner County Commission voted 3-0 that while the use of face masks would be encouraged, it would not be mandated in the county.


The meeting and its approved resolution was in response to an executive order issued by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, mandating the use of face masks, effective 12:01 a.m., July 3. The mandate would provide for civil penalties for noncompliance.


Kansas law authorized county commission boards to issue orders relating to public health that are less stringent than the provisions of an executive order effective statewide issued by the governor.


Prior to the vote, Sumner County Public Health Officer Laura Rettig read a statement, recommending people not listed as exempt wear masks in public places and outdoors when not able to maintain a six-foot distance.


"Right now wearing a mask is the best and most restrictive measure in combating COVID-19. My sincere hope is that people would wear masks voluntarily," she said.


The commission took comments from the public. Cheryl Helmer, 79th district representative, said, "I’ve had many requests and all of them have been positive toward not wearing masks. They’ve all asked that we not be forced to wear masks. They’re very concerned about what the repercussions are, the penalties are if they are caught not wearing the masks. They feel like being forced to wear a mask is a violation of their rights."


Sumner County Counselor Jack Potucek said the penalties for not wearing a mask are civil and they are not a misdemeanor or a citation. "That’s not provided for or called for," he said.


Helmer mentioned a letter she had received from a hairdresser in Winfield, saying if she were forced to have everyone wear masks, many women would refuse to come to her business.


"It’s going to in essence close small businesses down again because of mandating mask wearing. It’s going to start shutting our economy down again," Helmer said.


Commissioner Jim Newell said to Rettig, "My understanding is you’re encouraging the use of masks, but keep it voluntary."


"That’s my preferred message is voluntary," Rettig said.


Newell made a motion that the use of masks be voluntary. Commissioner Steve Warner seconded the motion, and Commissioner John Cooney joined the other commissioners in the 3-0 vote.


The commissioners did make clear that while the use of masks are voluntary, their use is encouraged.