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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Ocala mayor orders police chief to defy governor’s reopening orders amid COVID-19 crisis

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn sent a clear message Friday to Gov. Ron DeSantis – his city won’t be enforcing the rules for businesses to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guinn held a press conference at the Ocala Police Headquarters building on S Pine Avenue and said he has instructed Police Chief Greg Graham and his officers to ignore the governor’s Phase One reopening plans. Those include mandates for restaurants to open with 25 percent capacity inside their dining rooms and tables spaced apart at least six feet on outside patios. And it doesn’t allow gyms, hair and nail salons and other personal services businesses to reopen at all.

Guinn, who had mentioned his displeasure with DeSantis’ order at a recent City Council meeting, said on Friday that police officers won’t arrest anyone for gathering in groups of 10 or more. He claimed the Phase One orders violate the community’s right to freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

It’s unclear what could happen to Ocala business owners who ignore DeSantis’ order if state enforcement agencies get involved. They likely could face repercussions from agencies like the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, among others.

During the press conference, Guinn said he had spoken with several residents who had expressed fears about losing their businesses. He said he’s afraid by the time DeSantis implements the next phases of the reopening plan, many of those people will no longer own successful businesses and will be facing financial ruin.

Guinn’s press conference also followed a post he put on his Facebook page on May 2 sharing his frustrations with the guarded reopening plan that is keeping the doors closed on many Ocala and Marion County businesses. He said he had spent at least five minutes trying to find a parking space at a Lowe’s Home Improvement store, yet other businesses were being strictly limited or prevented from reopening entirely.

“And I/we can’t get a haircut? And restaurants can’t be at more than 25% capacity? And I can’t go to my gym at Zone Health and Fitness? We can’t take in a movie? Seriously??” wrote Guinn, who recently cited the city’s projected long road to recovery from the Coronavirus when abandoning a congressional campaign. “I’m glad they are busy. I want all of the ones I just mentioned to be that busy also. There’s absolutely NO reason why they shouldn’t be. Other than the state isn’t allowing it.”

Guinn’s stand against DeSantis follows a similar stance taken last week by Marion County Commission Chairman Kathy Bryant. She held a press conference on April 30 and made it clear that she and her fellow commissioners disagreed with portions of the governor’s plan to reopen Florida. She pushed for DeSantis to follow his own task force’s recommendations and allow restaurants, gyms and personal services business to reopen at 50 percent capacity during Phase One.

Marion County Commission Chairman Kathy Bryant urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to rethink his reopen Florida guidelines affecting restaurants and personal services businesses during an April 30 press conference.

“We have managed this COVID-19 event with success,” Bryant said at the time. “It was through our strict compliance to all executive orders and CDC guidelines that Marion County was able to get a handle on this virus and prevent the surges we were projected to see.”

Five days later, DeSantis held a press conference at a new Sarasota COVID-19 testing site and refused to budge on his Phase One directives. He said he and his team “looked at the science” when deciding the guidelines for outdoor seating at restaurants. But he didn’t back down on the 25-percent indoor seating capacity rule, nor did he address reopening plans for gyms and person services business, though during a Friday press conference in Jacksonville he hinted that news on that subject might be coming soon.

Earlier this week, Bryant joined with Lake County Commission Chairman Leslie Campione and Levy County Commission Chairman Matt Brooks to again implore DeSantis to allow their counties to use the task force’s reopening plan for restaurants, gyms and personal service providers. Bryant said she understand DeSantis was busy but it was frustrating that Marion County hadn’t heard back from him since she issued the request to loosen the reopening guidelines.