Kansas mayor resigns over death threats after COVID-19 mandate – “I do not feel safe in this position anymore”

Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw has turned in her resignation. She fears for her safety after receiving threats via phone and email. A newspaper interview opened her up to criticism about her yes vote to a face mask mandate.

Warshaw, a former Republican, now an Independent, was named to the city commission in 2012. In 2015, she was elected mayor, becoming the third female mayor in Dodge City history. Dodge City is one of the largest cities in Western Kansas. The commission voted in favor of a mask mandate on November 16. This action was a response to a spike in coronavirus cases in the county. More than 1 in 10 county residents has contracted the virus. The county opted-out of the governor’s mask mandate earlier in the pandemic.

During the interview with a Dodge City Daily Globe reporter, Warshaw said she didn’t have any regrets for her vote. The article was published on December 11. Dodge City Daily Globe is a part of the USA TODAY Network. “We just felt like we had to do something so everybody was aware of how important it was for everybody to be responsible for each other’s health and well-being,” Warshaw was quoted in the USA TODAY story.

Then, the threats to her personal safety began.

Since the Dec. 11 publication of the USA TODAY story, Warshaw said she has been met with aggression, including threats via phone and email from Dodge City citizens. Some threatening emails have been turned over to police, she said.

Warshaw said she feels her life has been threatened and reasoned that it is because she finds society to be unpredictable at this point.

Regarding investigations into the threatening emails, Warshaw said that some of them have been turned in to the police.

“This is harder for me than people realize,” Warshaw said as she began to cry. “I really love this city with all my heart.

“I still believe in this city and I believe in their ability to not harm one another.”

It seems odd that a newspaper interview published on December 11 was what brought out threats to the mayor and not the vote that was taken by the Commission on November 16. That’s a lag time for almost a month.

Dodge City Police Chief Drew Francis said, “We are looking into the substance of the communication to determine an appropriate course of action.”

It’s understandable for a public official to be concerned about personal threats but her choice to resign in response to them seems to play into the hands of those who take such unhinged action. Why humor them? If she really thought she made the right choice to vote yes on a mask mandate in order to force the city’s residents to wear them in public, she should be able to argue her point instead of just walking away. Was it solely the newspaper article or are the other members of the commission receiving threats, too? None of them have offered up their resignations.

The stress of the coronavirus has brought out the worst in some people and unfortunately, threats are now a part of public life. The topic of face mask usage and mandates from local officials is a particularly hot-button issue. The authoritarian streak in local officials quickly comes out as frustration over the spread of the virus plagues a city or county. The early mixed messages we heard at the beginning of the pandemic didn’t help. The CDC, the White House, and medical professionals have flipped from telling people not to purchase and wear masks to everyone will die if we don’t all wear face masks. Some of us decided to mask up when we leave our homes but no one really wants to be spoken to like a child.

It seems cowardly for the mayor to resign. Other politicians report receiving threats of violence and death threats yet they haven’t resigned. The governor of Michigan, for example, was threatened and law enforcement authorities arrested several men who were threatening her with kidnapping and death. Warshaw didn’t say she’s moving away, out of town, and away from any threats. She said it is best for the city if she “removes” herself from the commission and mayorship.

“I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said regarding her reasons for her abrupt resignation. “I think it’s best for me and the city that I love to remove myself from the commission at this time and from the mayorship so that the city can move forward and be the best that it can be because I believe in the city.

“I believe it is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise your children. I will always love Dodge City and it will always be my home.”

I assume the mask mandate remains in effect. The commission voted in favor of it, it wasn’t just an order from the mayor’s office. She entered politics after a 27-year career in education, the last 18 years as a principal of an elementary school. As a principal, she likely acquired lots of experience in resolving conflicts and providing leadership. Too bad she didn’t decide to lead by example and stand up to the bullies.

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