Cheney to keep health enforcement local


By Travis Mounts

CHENEY – Enforcement of the latest Sedgwick County ordinance regarding masks and other COVID-19 related directives will remain local.

During the city council meeting on Thursday, Nov. 12, council members agreed with the county’s decision to put some teeth into the countywide directives, given the spiking positivity rate. But the council felt any local situations would best be handled by local police and, if necessary, through Cheney Municipal Court.

Sedgwick County is asking cities to partner with the county on enforcement. The county’s proposal would let any city official initiate a complaint against a business or individual with an email to the Sedgwick County Health Department. A warning letter would be sent, and additional offenses could be result in the business or individual being served a notice to appear in Sedgwick County Court. A fine up to $500 is possible through county court.

However, it was noted during Thursday’s meeting, the city already has the power to prosecute the violation of health orders under the universal public offense code (UPOC), which is adopted annually. Local penalties in the UPOC are actually a little harsher. Violation of a public health order is considered a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

Cheney officials said their goal is to have businesses and individuals comply voluntarily with the health order, if possible.

City attorney Austin Parker told the council that there is good cooperation between Cheney police and the local municipal court.

“The goal is compliance,” Parker said. “I think the maximum enforcement will come if you do it locally.”

He praised the judiciousness of local police.

Police chief Ken Winter said his department would find the time for enforcement if asked to do so.

Council members expressed concern about adopting any agreement with the county that they had not seen. City administrator Danielle Young reported she had made multiple requests for the agreement, which apparently was not ready before Thursday’s meeting.

Council members expressed concerns about how the county might prioritize any cases in Cheney.

Previous county health orders had no penalties tied to them. Cheney officials have worked with some businesses that were previously out of compliance, to no avail.

“They seem to realize the order has had no teeth,” Young said.

The county’s new approach appears to have compliance as the primary goal. City officials are looking to take a similar approach, with stronger enforcement reserved for repeat offenders.

The latest Sedgwick County public health order, issued on Nov. 11, directs people to cover their mouths and noses in a number of situations, including any public space where social distancing of six feet is not possible; when in line to enter an indoor public space; when obtaining health services; and while on public transportation or in a taxi, car service or ride-sharing vehicle.

Business employees working in any space visited by customers must wear masks, even if customers are not present. The rule also applies to any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution.

Mass gatherings are limited to 100 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. In those situations, people must maintain six feet of social distance.

The latest health order extends through Dec. 31.