by Bill Bush
SEDGWICK—Last Thursday afternoon, May 21, Sedgwick City Administrator Joe Turner e-mailed a memo to the City Council and the mayor, recommending they authorize the city staff to open the public pool on or before June 1. This would have been in direct defiance of the Governor Kelly’s executive order issued on May 19, which pushed back pool openings from June 1 to June 8.
In his five-page memo Turner argues that the governor’s executive orders violate state law and the United States constitution, that the constant extending of executive orders is based on fraudulent information, they treat businesses unfairly, the governor’s decision making has been whimsical and chaotic, and the orders discriminate and harm young American citizens.
“Our government is built upon the foundational tenet that there must be a rigorous and robust system of checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power and the trampling of rights and freedoms retained by the people,” Turner wrote in his memo. “Local governments are duty-bound and ethically required to vigorously challenge the state or federal government when it acts in a manner that is not just clearly unconstitutional, but when there are legitimate concerns and ambiguities about the constitutionally of these actions.”
State Representative Tim Hodge, a lawyer, attended the meeting even though he had been up the previous night in the legislature’s final meeting. He acknowledged the tough decision the council had in front of them and didn’t believe there was a clear answer to what would happen if they opened prior to June 8 since the Attorney General’s opinion sounds like they don’t want to enforce the rules.
“There is really no set labyrinth as to what opens when, and that’s a problem,” Hodge said. “My perception is the local and state governments are doing their best to cooperate with this layer of constitutional law and public safety. We all want our rights, but when does that jeopardize public safety? And that’s a constant tension.”
Several of the council members and the mayor expressed their frustration at the uncertainty.
“I think we could live with waiting until the 8th, but when the governor changes at a whim the dates…on the 7th will she change her mind and say the 15th?” Mayor Bryan Chapman said.
“When is enough, enough?” council member Randi Tolin asked.
“Youth activities are permissible, but you’re at the pool with chlorine and other chemicals,” council member Brenda DeHaven said. “I would think you would be safer at the pool than doing youth activities.”
Kirby Stucky said he agreed with Turner’s memo, but suggested they may not want to right the legal battle.
Carol Truesdell said she wasn’t impressed with the governor but hated to override the county.
Monty Leonard went a step further and said he had a different opinion until he received the letter from the county.
The letter that Truesdell and Leonard refer to was sent from the Harvey County Health Department Friday afternoon prior to the city council meeting and contained signatures from both Doyle Detwetiler, Medical Director/Public Health Officer, and Lynnette Redington, Director of the Harvey County Health Department.
The letter encouraged the council to stay vigilant for the health and safety of the public.
“We would not serve our role as public health officials for the residents of all of Harvey County if we remained ignorant of a special meeting called for Friday, May 22, to consider awarding authority to the City Administrator to open the Sedgwick City Pool prior to or on June 1,” the letter stated. “In recognition that there are arguments on all side(sic) of this decision, it is in the utmost seriousness that the community’s health be the tipping factor.”
Tolin said the letter rubbed her the wrong way and made her feel bullied. She noted that the Attorney General’s opinion stated that there is no exception for a pandemic in the constitution and that really struck a chord with her. She said they have done everything they can to comply with the guidelines and all the changes.
“I feel like we’ve given them the inch that they asked for and now they’re asking for a mile,” Tolin said. “However, I don’t want to put the City of Sedgwick at risk financially by provoking Harvey County and pushing them to flex a muscle on us that we don’t want them to flex. It kind of feels like they’re insinuating that’s a possibility.”
She thought they should wait until June 8, but after that no more changing the date.
The council agreed, and voted 5-0 to open the public pool on June 8.
Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington said she did not take the council’s decision lightly.
“I do appreciate that the Sedgwick city council took this under advisement and did go this direction to show their collaboration with the county,” Redington said.
She learned about the special meeting from the County Administrator who sent her a note with a link to the City’s website with the published agenda.
Redington said they adopted the State’s Ad Astra plan after the Public Health Officer, Doyle Detwetiler, reviewed the plan and said there was good science behind it, at least what science is now available.
“I can’t tell you that being in a pool right now is better or worse than anything else,” Redington said. “There is not data out there for that. But when we look at trends and when we look at where we’re at, again we’re relying on our state Kansas department of health and environment, their guidance, as well as the local public health officer’s guidance. So that’s what we went with.”