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County again fails to act

Novak defies mask order during deliberations

Staff writers

County commissioners, one of them defying a Marion ordinance by failing to wear a mask, didn’t even vote Friday on a watered-down version of a mask mandate requested and originally drafted by the county health nurse

Commissioner Dianne Novak, despite sitting less than six feet from Commissioner Dave Crofoot, was the lone person in the room who refused to cover her mouth and nose with a mask.

Novak had a mask but allowed it to dangle from her right ear until a journalist attempted to photograph her.

Novak then put her thumbs to her ears and waggled her fingers at the journalist.

Earlier, Novak attempted to get Crofoot, who favors a mask mandate, disqualified from voting by suggesting that his company, Western Associates, sells masks and therefore presents a conflict of interest.

Asked to render an opinion on whether it was a conflict, county counselor Brad Jantz said it probably was not.

Nurse Diedre Serene was present by teleconferencing during discussion of the mask mandate but never was asked to comment on the proposal, which had been redrafted and weakened by Jantz.

The draft, not made available to the public, reportedly said it was for Harvey County, where Jantz resides, instead of Marion County. Novak pointed out the error.

No action was taken after commissioners debated the resolution for less time than they spent talking about an old bridge on a road that doesn’t appear on most maps and about spraying for weeds.

Novak has said numerous times that she opposes any mask mandate, which the commission now has rejected three times after one originally was ordered statewide by Governor Laura Kelly.

On commissioners’ instructions, Jantz had removed from a resolution commissioners had seen earlier in the week all references to penalties for not wearing masks.

Otherwise, it was largely unchanged and quite similar to an ordinance originally prepared at their request. It and an ordinance adopted earlier in the week by the City of Marion both were modeled after a health department order issued in Sedgwick County.

“The vast majority of it is something that Diedre prepared,” Jantz said. “It’s a directive to the public to wear a mask in any situation where they can’t social distance.”

But, he noted, at commissioners’ request he had changed if from a requirement to a request.

Commissioner Kent Becker pointed to a paragraph that contained the word “must.”

“That sounds like a mandate to me,” Becker said.

Novak said she was under the impression businesses already had authority to tell customers to wear a mask.

“They do,” Jantz said.

Some have been reluctant, however, to take it upon themselves to turn away customers.

Ampride in Hillsboro, for example, has a note on its front door urging patrons to wear masks and saying that it will not refuse to serve those who do not.

Crofoot said he thought commissioners should pass the resolution, but chairman Jonah Gehring asked why the resolution was needed “if it doesn’t affect the numbers.”

“I still feel our resolution we already have is sufficient,” Gehring said.

Novak concurred.

“I find it to be effective the way it’s written,” she said.

Commissioner Kent Becker said he had heard that Dickinson County, which has a mask resolution, “gets calls all day long on their mask ordinance.”

Despite the City of Marion ordering masks four days earlier, county 911 dispatchers said in response to a reporter’s question after the meeting Friday they had not received a single call about people not wearing masks.

Dickinson County’s COVID-19 infection rate, 2.0 patients per 1,000 residents, is less than half Marion County’s rate of 4.4 patients per 1,000 residents, according to the state health department.

County clerk Tina Spencer confirmed that everyone who enters the courthouse is subject to the city’s mask ordinance. Under the ordinance, it is the responsibility not only of visitors but also facility owners to enforce mask requirements.

Spencer referred to Jantz a reporter’s questions about whose responsibility it might be to enforce the ordinance if commissioners violated it during their meetings. Jantz could not be reached for comment.

Novak’s opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary, feedlot owner and restaurateur Mike Beneke, injected humor into the meeting when he visited the meeting room with a black apron over his nose and mouth.

The apron was weighed down by a canister of sanitizing wipes in one pocket and a spray bottle filled with fluid in the other.

Novak used her cell phone to take a picture of Beneke’s garb.

Last modified Aug. 6, 2020

 

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