Riley County commissioners Monday approved recommending that the public wear masks, but they stopped short of “strongly” recommending it.

Commissioners John Ford and Ron Wells were in favor of “strongly” recommending mask-wearing across the county, but chairman Marvin Rodriguez said he didn’t want to go that far.

“That’s how I feel about that part,” he said. “I don’t mind it being said in there, but I don’t know about the words of ‘strongly encouraging.’”

Rodriguez said he thinks a strong recommendation or encouragement “seems almost like a mandate to me.”

“Because then other people are going to tell them, ‘Why don’t you have a mask on?’” Rodriguez said.

He said he thinks telling people to wear masks through a mandate is a violation of civil rights.

Wells said the county did not want to force anyone to wear masks but did want to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think it’s smart to strongly encourage or strongly recommend,” Wells said. But Wells and Ford decided to defer to Rodriguez’ position in the interest of unanimity.

Riley County Health Department Julie Gibbs said she was OK with just recommending mask-wearing, instead of “strongly” recommending it.

She said she would like to have language finalized by Friday for a new local health order, which will go into effect early next week. The current local health order, which requires bars and restaurants to close at midnight to minimize crowding, expires Sunday night.

The commission is also recommending proper hand hygiene and other health protocols to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition, commissioners heard an update from Tami Robison, county budget and finance officer. She said officials will be meeting this week with entities from communities, schools and higher education institutions to talk about the funding the county is receiving from the federal government to help during the coronavirus pandemic. Riley County will receive close to $15 million.

In other action Monday, commissioners:

  • Discussed public works director Leon Hobson’s decision to retire. Hobson had announced earlier this year he is retiring, effective Dec. 28.
  • Listened to Rodriguez discuss his wife’s recent medical procedures. He also said people have stolen some of his large campaign signs twice so he planned to report the theft Monday to the Riley County Police Department. Rodriguez said he doesn’t know who’s doing it. “I feel that whoever’s doing it is really not helping the situation,” Rodriguez said.