Atchison County Commission Vice-chairman Eric Noll’s second attempt to strike down Gov. Laura Kelley’s recent mandated executive order regarding face masks in public to lower the pandemic spread died again within a week.
Noll made the motion during an afternoon meeting on July 7 following the Atchison County commissioners’ discussion and consultation with health officials and County Counselor Patrick Henderson during a morning workshop. Both sessions were virtual gatherings.
“The burden of proof has not been met,” Noll said of the earlier consultation. “Gov. Kelly’s guidelines and the recommendations of the county’s health officials do not meet findings to determine the order is in the best interest of the citizens in the county.”
Chief Health Officer Lori Forge, RN, Director Wesley Lanter, emergency management, Chairman Jack Bower and Commissioner Henry W. “Bill” Pohl were silent. Then after time passed, Bower declared the motion dead by lack of a second.
It was during the morning workshop when Forge and Lantevirtually visited with commissioners.
Lanter said the recommendation is to extend Phase 3.5 of the county’s COVID-19 reopening plan for another two weeks.
Noll asked if there was any wording in the county’s plan about the executive order effective July 3.
Lanter said there was not, but it emphasizes hand hygiene like the use of sanitizers, hand washing and not touching the face unless hands are clean.
Forge thanked commissioners for allowing the executive order to stand the week prior.
“When you tell people they have to do something it becomes a huge deal,” Forge said of the governor’s order regarding facial coverings.
Bower said he doesn’t understand why the issue of wearing a face mask is so politicized.
Noll disagreed and made a reference to several neighboring counties that have decided not to engage face-mask requirements in accordance with the executive order.
Bower told Noll his motion to repeal the governor’s mandate from the previous meeting was illegal because the group had not formally consulted with all local health officials.
Commissioners were all present for a budget workshop on July 6 and all adhered to the face mask requirement. Noll referred to the workshop and said he noticed all the commissioners handled their masks and faces to make adjustments. He added there wasn’t any sanitizer in the room for them to use. Noll said he believes it is a finding of no health benefit and said if the masks are such a cure-all there wouldn’t be a problem.
Forge reasoned that now it is known that facial coverings are an effective measure to lower the spread of COVID-19, and without the mandate she is afraid the number of cases would grow.
“Isn’t it worth something to know the mask is something that will protect you?” Forge asked. “Your mask protects me. My mask protects you.”
A new leader soon will take over the helm at Atchison Senior Village, the county-run residential care facility.
John Rainbolt will start his new job on Monday, Aug. 3 to familiarize himself with the facility and operational dutiesfrom outgoing administrator Kinton Friend.
Commissioners unanimously approved Rainbolt’s hire on July 7. Chairman Jack Bower and Vice-Chairman Eric Noll interviewed candidates for the job during the afternoon of June 8 in executive sessions recessed from a special meeting.
Human Resource Director Jamie Madison wrote in a press release to the Atchison Globe that Rainbolt joins the county’s administrative job force with more than 20 years of experience and is licensed in several states. Throughout the past several years, Rainbolt has served as an interim nursing home administrator in Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and currently Nebraska.
“He is looking forward to settling down in a permanent nursing home administrator role with his family and is looking forward to moving to Atchison and becoming a part of the community,” Madison wrote.
Friend gave commissioners notification of her intent to resign in early May. Friend is leaving in effort to return to Illinois and care for family members. She was appointed in February of 2019 to serve as the administrator at Senior Village.
Local leaders are putting their heads together to make a decision within the next few weeks to determine how to utilize about $3.2 million in government funding in the wake of impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Atchison County Commission Board officially started the with the adoption of Resolution 2020-1470 to accept the county’s share of funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund allocated through Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas. By law, the county will be dispersing funds accordingly to municipalities and educational entities.
County Chairman Jack Bower, County Counselor Patrick Henderson, Director Wesley Lanter of emergency management, Atchison City Manager Becky Berger, Superintendent Renee Scott and Business Manager Lori Lanter of USD 409, and Dr. Andrew Gaddis, superintendent and Business Manager Megan Gracey of USD 377, comprise the appointed SPARK Taskforce committee members. County Project Manager Mark Wilson serves as the moderator and coordinator of the group.
Lanter said committee members’ task at hand is to create a plan to submit by Saturday, Aug. 15, to the state. The plan serves as the deciding framework on how to use the $3.2 million the county will receive this month from the federally funded CARES Act. In accordance with the guidelines, it is a requirement to expend the funds by Wednesday, Dec. 30, or the state will recoup them.
As of the adoption of the resolution on July 10, there were more than 40 reported positive COVID-19 cases along with expectations there will be a second wave in the fall. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11. Subsequently President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution stipulates the county must remain flexible to accommodate the ever-changing scope and unprecedented public health emergency while simultaneously proceeding to safely and strategically reopen business in a way to facilitate and economic recovery and revitalization. The document also dictates commissioners will abide with responsibility to ensure the health, safety, security and welfare of people in Atchison County, require a proactive approach to supply financial relief and economic investment to the communities within Atchison County and take efforts to avoid danger to the public’s welfare, safety and health as well as preparation for future COVID-19 infectious waves. This also includes guidance and support for municipalities and educational entities and their populations.
The state finance council approved the SPARK task force’s proposal to distribute an amount of funding less than $3.3 million. Bower said the amount is based on the unemployment numbers and population calculations as certified to the federal government.
Some allowed expenditures are public health expenses like payroll for employees dedicated to COVID-19 mitigation and/or response; testing and quarantine costs; public hospital and clinic expenses; improvements to facilitate distance learning and technological improvements and telework capabilities. Small-business grants to reimburse costs associated with business interruptions caused by required closures are also acceptable.
Requirements attached to the funding are timely reports of the spending and receipts by specified deadlines. Meetings and hearings and the process to determine how to spend the funding are considered public. Public comment sessions for task force members to hear suggestions are also within the guidelines.
Some of the expected top priorities to utilize the funds will be improvements to accommodate social distancing and expanding cooler space to prepare for storage of future COVID-19 vaccines.
There are several million dollars that remain pending from the state following this round, Bower and Lanter indicated.
More than 600 signatures and counting have been applied to two competing open letters on the status of race relations at Benedictine College.
For its part, the college acknowledged this week that more needs to be done to improve matters for “Raven students of color.” However, a strong debate continues about how much racism has been an issue on the campus in Atchison, Kansas.
“We are painfully aware that the institution and its members have sometimes fallen short of the college’s goals, as letter-writers have made clear,” the college said. “Racial bigotry has no place at Benedictine College. It never has and never will.”
This argument first arose because of the Benedictine chapter of Turning Point USA, which is dedicated to combating progressivism on college campuses. In mid-June, the TPUSA chapter posted a message on Instagram about U.S. history and slavery. The college denounced the image as racially offensive, and it has since been taken down, but the controversy has had staying power.
At Benedictine, there have, as yet, been no notable in-person protests. The bulk of Benedictine students reside elsewhere in the summer months, and the campus has been under a COVID-19 suspension of normal operations since March. So, Rachel Medara, an alumna who founded the Benedictine Young Democrats, didn’t fully grasp what she was setting in motion when she penned a letter on combating racism to President Stephen D. Minnis last month.
Medara decided to post the letter on Facebook to see if other alumni would comment. Quickly, dozens did, and Medara came to realize she had set off a movement, using the energy for social change that has been internationally prevalent since the Memorial Day slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police in that city. As of Thursday, more than 320 people had signed Medara’s letter, all listed under their own names as students or alumni of the college.
Medara said on Thursday that among her primary motivations in writing to Minnis is to bring his attention to what she regards as broad insensitivity at Benedictine to the concerns of the marginal number of students who are black, and others who identify within racial minority groups.
“The point of my letter was that you don’t see this culture of racism at Benedictine, unless you’re entrenched in it every day,” Medara said. “Unless you’re talking to students socially, unless you’re in the (dining hall), you’re on the whole campus … It becomes very clear that there is a wider culture of racism that is allowed at Benedictine.”
Dr. Anthony Crifasi, professor of philosophy, debated with Medara and others on Facebook before opting to write to Minnis himself. Crifasi, who is the faculty adviser at Benedictine for TPUSA, emphatically rejected the notion that racism is a serious issue on campus, though he does not approve of the Instagram photo. Crifasi’s letter has been signed by a similar number of people as Medara’s letter; the signatures include some with limited ties to Benedictine.
Roman Catholic teachings, of the kind that are core to the college’s identity, condemn racism as anathema, Crifasi wrote. A college that upholds these teachings like Benedictine does not and never could tolerate racist ideas, he added.
“Appealing to the Benedictine value of hospitality to promote more integration of students is one thing. Claiming that the current situation is a ‘culture of racism’ is quite another,” Crifasi wrote.
The college opened an inquiry about TPUSA but has yet to take action, aside from its public statements. The campus in Atchison is privately owned and operated, and the college has the authority to prohibit any political groups or assemblies there. The college also can withdraw the financial support enjoyed by TPUSA as a sponsored student group.
Medara said a withdrawal of support for the posting of the image ought to be under serious consideration, although she said she will respect the Minnis administration if no such action is taken. What is more important to her is that a broader conversation about race relations continues; she is pleased that it has developed to this point.
“I have seen a push toward greater inclusion at Benedictine, certainly,” Medara said. “It is heartening to see that they are taking concrete steps toward equity at Benedictine.”
Crifasi declined to give an interview, as Medara did. His writings have been included here in the interest of fairness. The letters, and the college’s response, are posted to newspressnow.com.
Atchison Public Schools leaders plan to gather at 7 p.m. Monday, July 13, in the community room at the USD 409 Board of Education office at 626 Commercial St.
Social distancing and face masks or facial coverings are required for all board members, guests and public citizens. Board members will reserve their time hear public comments like they did prior to the pandemic interruption.
In addition to the regular business agenda, board members expect to:
Hear a Highland Community College Technical Center report from Director of Technical Education Lucas Hunziger.
Hear an Ad Hoc School Safety Committee Report from Superintendent Renee Scott.
Reaffirm on second reading board policies that include Policy GA to Policy GACC relating to harassment, bullying by staff; job descriptions, recruiting and hiring as well as other topics.
Discuss proposed revisions and adoption of first reading of Policy CF to Policy KNA; that covers board and superintendent relations, complaints of discrimination, child abuse and other topics.
Discuss school finances and review budget timeline with Business Manager Lori Lanter.
Recess from regular session to enter into executive session to discuss negotiations and personnel matters of non-elected personnel. After the regular session resumes, board members might possible take action of resignations, recommendations for employment and transfers and supplemental contracts before they adjourn for the night.