County Board of Commissioners break from Governor, repeal mask mandate

Caelin Bragg
The Butler County Board of Commissioners (left to right, Jeff Masterson, Marc Murphy, Ed Myers and Mike Wheeler) listen to Butler County Health Department Administrator Jamie Downs express her support for Governor Kelly's mask mandate. The 1-hour, 15-minute long meeting ended in a 3-1 vote to not enforce the mandate on Thursday, July 2 at the Butler County Court House in El Dorado, Kansas.

The Butler County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 during their special meeting Thursday, July 2 to repeal Governor Laura Kelly’s executive order to mandate citizens wear mask in public settings.

The meeting began at 6 p.m. and lasted over an hour. The commissioners heard from citizens and Butler County Health Department Administrator Jamie Downs and their thoughts and opinions regarding the mandate.

“[T]he Commission believes individuals should have the right to make a choice as to whether or not to wear a mask, while businesses should have the right to develop policies for their own operations,” the county said in a statement shortly following the meeting.

Commissioners Jeff Masterson, Marc Murphy and Ed Myers voted in favor of the repeal, while Mike Wheeler voted against the repeal. Commissioner Dan Woydziak was not present at the meeting.

The only part of the Governor’s executive order they will abide by is the requirement that labs testing for COVID-19 report to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment not only the positive cases they have found, but also the negative tests.

Downs was the first to speak to the commissioners and detailed her reasons for why she believed the mandate should be followed and presented a video to the commissioners demonstrating the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent the spread through mechanisms like talking. She also referenced a study in Beijing that found wearing masks cut the transmission rates by 78%.

“After careful review of multiple studies, consultation with the health department medical consultant, the EMS medical consultant and other health officials, staff is recommending that Butler County follow the Governor’s executive order 20-52 requiring masks or other face coverings in public,” Downs said to the commissioners

Afterwards, members from the public began speaking to the commissioners. Four citizens believed that the board should enforce the mandate for the safety of those most vulnerable, while six spoke out against the mandate.

The crux of the arguments against enforcing the mandate were that wearing masks should be left up to the individual and their judgment for what is best for them. County Administrator Will Johnson also made note that it would exceedingly difficult for local law enforcement to enforce such a mandate.

One citizen, Brittney Warner, a hairstylist from El Dorado, gave an impassioned speech voicing her objections to the mandate.

“I want to live for where my kids are down the line,” Warner said, holding back tears. “And when you force somebody to do something like [wear masks] … what are the gonna make my kids do? Cause I can tell you right now we’re not getting the vaccine, sorry. So the precedent for this, the precedent is most often progressive, so they used the precedent to take it a step further, and a step further and a step further.”

Warner said through tears that she was stepping down from her job as a hairstylist after the owner of the venue she was renting space for would require her to wear a mask. She was met with a round of applause from the audience after finishing.

This decision by the Board comes days after they voted to not extend the COVID-19 emergency declaration through Monday, July 6 during their last meeting on Tuesday, June 30 with a 2-2 vote.

Commissioners Murphy and Wheeler both voted in favor of extending the declaration while Masterson and Myers voted against. Commissioner Woydziak was not present for this vote either.

Earlier that day, the Sedgwick County Commission also overturned the Governor’s orders and instead issued a strong recommendation for citizens to wear masks in public.