The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday unanimously decided to stop banning women from going topless in public.
The commission agreed to amend the city code to allow female toplessness. However, property owners and businesses still retain the right to require all patrons to wear shirts.
City attorney Katie Jackson recommended the city do this for the time being to avoid potential lawsuits after a civil lawsuit in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is covered by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kansas is also under the 10th Circuit. Fort Collins settled the case, but not before the court said it likely would find the ordinance unconstitutional.
The Manhattan code can be changed down the road, Jackson said.
However, the government could still prosecute if, for example, a woman without a shirt was acting in a lewd manner, which is against state law, Jackson said.
Commissioners Usha Reddi and Jerred McKee said it’s appropriate to treat females and males the same way with this change.
“I don’t like the idea of one gender getting higher penalties or fined more so than a different gender,” Reddi said.
McKee said it is not fair that society generally sexualizes women’s bodies.
“To the nearest point, if we’re going to treat males one way in terms of toplessness, we should treat females the exact same way,” McKee said.
“And so if people are upset about city pools and what could happen there, well then your sons will also be wearing shirts next summer to city pools.”
The code still does not allow exposure of female or male genitalia or buttocks.
According to city officials, Manhattan has prosecuted 51 cases of public nudity since 2003. Of those, 37 defendants were males exposing their genitalia. Of the 14 female defendants, six were cited for toplessness, which occurred between 2004 and 2010.
In other actions:
- Mayor Mike Dodson announced the resignation of Gary Fees, city clerk. Dodson nor Fees indicated why Fees was leaving, but Fees said he had a new opportunity arise. Dodson and the commission thanked and recognized him during the meeting.
- The commission unanimously approved a measure to fund levee improvements after a public hearing where no one spoke. The ordinance gets the ball rolling on improvements to the Manhattan levee, including including installation of an 8,000-foot “underseepage collection system,” new relief wells and gates.
- The levee helps prevent flooding downtown from the Kansas and Big Blue rivers.
“I believe it is for the greater good,” said commissioner Linda Morse.
The project costs about $33 million. The city is responsible for $13.4 million while the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers pays the remaining amount.
- Commissioners approved an expansion of a pedestrian sidewalk at Wildcat Creek bridge on Highway K-18. The sidewalk expansion goes from 6-feet wide to 10-feet wide. The project costs $69,000, with the city planning to fund it through the trail sales tax fund, official said.
- Commissioners also approved 2020 service fees for downtown and Aggieville businesses. Fees vary depending on the business size and type. There is a 25% late fee if a business does not pay the amount on time.