Kansas Mayor Resigns After Facing Threats Over Support for Mask Ordinance: ‘I Do Not Feel Safe’

A western Kansas mayor resigned on Tuesday after she says she received threats over her support for a local mask mandate to slow the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Joyce Warshaw, the now-former mayor of Dodge City, Kansas, wrote in a letter to the city’s commission that she no longer felt “safe” in the position and she decided to leave office.

“Life has dealt out many challenges in our world that have perhaps caused many people to act inappropriately,” wrote Warshaw, a Republican. “But I do not feel safe in this position anymore and am hopeful in removing myself this anger, accusations and abuse will not fall on anyone else and will calm down.”

Warshaw, who turns 70 on Monday, tells PEOPLE she had received threats since last month, when she voted in favor of the city’s mandate.

The ordinance, passed in mid-November, requires people to wear masks when indoors or else face a $25 fine. According to a USA Today report, however, the mandate has been widely ignored even as coronavirus cases have risen to some 5,000 people in a county of only 33,000. Ten people have died.

Warshaw’s aunt died from complications from the respiratory illness and her daughter tested positive for the virus earlier this year, Warshaw says.

While experts say masks are an easy and effective preventative step, the use of masks — and laws enforcing them — have become politically divisive. (President Donald Trump, for example, openly waffled on their importance and supported people protesting coronavirus restrictions.)

Warshaw says the threats against her had increased over the week after she was quoted in the recent USA Today article about how the small town was hit hard with the pandemic.

"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 is quoted saying in the article.

She tells PEOPLE now that the article “really created some vengeful type of verbiage, just verbiage that makes you stop and think — really?”

Warshaw says she received emails, texts and social media messages that read “you’ll burn in hell,” while one specifically used the word “murder.”

She says another simply warned: “We’re coming for you.”

Warshaw and her husband, Bill Warshaw, had already left Dodge City to visit an apartment they own in another part of the state but they decided to stay there indefinitely after the weekend’s spike in threats, she says.

“I’m just going to fade away,” she says. “I don’t know when or if I’ll go back to Dodge City for a very long time. I hope so, because I love Dodge City.”

She says she forwarded some of the menacing emails to the city manager and told him, “I’m not comfortable with this.”

The city official then turned the emails over to the Dodge City police chief, who is now investigating, The Dodge City Daily Globe reported.

“They’re only words, but with all the divisiveness and what’s going on across our nation with the pandemic, as well as the political scene, bullying has almost been condoned," Warshaw says. “Hopefully nothing would’ve happened, but we don’t know that.”

In addition to her letter, Warshaw announced her decision to resign on Facebook, where she was flooded with thanks and support.

“Your leadership and ability to make the tough decisions will be missed,” one person wrote.

Another added: “I am so sorry that you had to go through this!”

Warshaw wrote in her resignation letter that she has “no regrets” about her choices as mayor: “I truly made every decision for the best interest of all of you and Dodge City.”

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