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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Ocala Mayor Guinn vetoes city’s controversial emergency mask ordinance

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn has vetoed a controversial emergency face covering ordinance that was passed Aug. 4 by a split City Council.

Guinn said he issued the veto, which was anticipated, because it would be too difficult for the Ocala Police Department to enforce. The mayor oversees the police department and both Police Chief Greg Graham and Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods have said an ordinance requiring enforcement actions against those refusing to wear masks would be nearly impossible to police.

The City Council approved the controversial face covering ordinance on Aug. 4 after hearing from a variety of speakers both for and against the plan. The city was reporting 4,316 cases when the Council voted 4-1 in favor of the ordinance, with Council President Jay Musleh casting the only “no” vote. On Monday when Guinn filed his veto, the city was reporting 5,215 cases – 79.3 percent of the 6,573 being reported in Marion County.

During the Aug. 4 meeting, several speakers became emotional when talking about the ordinance. One suggested it was a violation of his Constitutional rights, while another said it should be up to her to make that decision.

One speaker who said his girlfriend works in the healthcare field implored the Council to approve the ordinance. He said she has been forced to social distance herself from him because she could have been exposed to the virus.

The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Matthew Wardell and supported by Council President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle and Councilmen Ire Bethea Sr. and Brent Malever. Despite voting against the ordinance, Musleh made it clear that he was in favor of residents wearing face coverings to protect others, saying they should just “wear your damn masks.”

The ordinance calls for customers and employees to wear face coverings in local businesses. It also calls for the business owners to “ensure” that customers adhere to the requirement.

Business owners are required to post signs about the requirements for face coverings. The penalties for violations of the emergency ordinance include:

  • First offense (verbal warning that includes education about the dangers of non-compliance);
  • Second offense (written warning);
  • Third and all subsequent offenses: (Fine of $25).

The ordinance doesn’t apply to:

  • Children under the age of seven.
  • People who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or those with a documented or demonstrable medical problem.
  • Public safety, fire and other life safety and healthcare personnel, as their personal protective equipment requirements will be governed by their respective agencies.
  • People exercising while observing at least six feet of distancing from another person.
  • Restaurant, bar or theater patrons while eating or drinking. They are required to wear the masks while entering and exiting the businesses, while using the restroom facilities and when they are standing in the establishments and unable to maintain at least 6 feet of distancing.
  • Business owners, managers and employees who are in an area of a business that isn’t open customers, patrons or the public, provided that 6 feet of distance exists between the persons. The exception doesn’t apply to employees who are working in kitchens or other food and beverage preparation areas.
  • Medical, dental or other healthcare facilities or offices, as mask wearing in those facilities will be regulated by those facilities.
  • People who are separated from any others by means of barriers such as plastic face shields, plastic or glass barriers, or other devices that effectively prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
  • People inside a lodging establishment, including but not limited to a hotel room, motel room, vacation rental unit, timeshare unit or similar unit.