Wednesday, May 5, 2021
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Ocala City Council tackles controversial mask issue again amid COVID-19 pandemic

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn

The Ocala City Council approved a controversial resolution Tuesday night “encouraging” the use of  face coverings at indoor venues.

The resolution, which was unanimously approved, doesn’t replace the city’s emergency mask ordinance – one that Councilmembers have admitted lacks “teeth” – that’s set to expire April 3. Councilmember Matthew Wardell, a huge proponent of the city’s mask ordinance, wasn’t at the meeting.

The original ordinance also called for $25 fines for businesses where customers were found not wearing masks. But Mayor Kent Guinn and late Police Chief Greg Graham had made it clear that they didn’t believe the ordinance wasn’t enforceable. And Gov. Ron DeSantis banned such fines, which made the ordinance a show of strength from the Council but basically rendered it as nothing more than a request for residents to wear masks in public settings.

One anti-mask resident spoke out against the resolution and thanked the police department and Guinn – a well-known critic of the city’s mask ordinance and a COVID-19 survivor – for not enforcing the ordinance.

Ocala City Council President Justin Grabelle

This past August, the City Council overrode a veto issued by Guinn against the mask ordinance. At the time, Councilmembers said their goal was to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, which as of Wednesday had infected 20,886 people in Ocala and 28,485 across Marion County.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Guinn and Council President Justin Grabelle had a “friendly” disagreement over the resolution and ordinance. Guinn claimed that it was never enforceable and said it was much like other ordinances that aren’t always enforced or motorists who aren’t always ticketed. That prompted Grabelle to say that he appreciated the mayor’s thoughts, but any ordinance or law that is on the books and isn’t being enforced should be looked at and possibly removed.

Grabelle also encouraged area residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine and continue to practice safety measures like wearing face coverings and social distancing. He called the new resolution a compromise and said he knew it wasn’t perfect, but the city is trying to be pro-active in the ongoing fight against the potentially deadly virus.