Mask ordinance renewed by City Council

Council President Jay Musleh speaks during the Ocala City Council meeting at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. The City Council passed an amendment to the mask ordinance on Tuesday and also voted to keep it enforced. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted October 23, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Ocala Gazette

Ocala’s controversial mask ordinance was renewed by the City Council Tuesday night by a 4-1 vote, with little discussion among members of the board.

There will be no fines or penalties under the renewed ordinance, thanks to a statewide order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Still, the ordinance requires customers and employees to wear masks in businesses and other public places.

Several citizens spoke out against renewing the ordinance.

“We’ve been duped,” said Rock Gibboney, a frequent critic of coronavirus-related restrictions. “It’s all about money. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about fear. That’s how you control people.”

Gary White said the mask ordinance is a constitutional issue brought about by “Marxists, Leninists , globalists who want to destroy us.”

“This is a constitutional issue,” White said. “The Constitution is supposed to protect us against you.”

Mayor Kent Guinn, whose veto of the original ordinance was overridden by the council, expressed his opposition again.

“What we’ve got is a mask ordinance that is basically toothless,” he said. “I think we need to just call it a day and move on.”

Despite the mayor’s plea, the council voted to extend the ordinance, which had to be renewed after 60 days because it was originally introduced as an emergency ordinance.

The council first passed the mask ordinance in August. It did not come easily.

The ordinance, championed initially by Councilman Matt Wardell, failed the first time it was proposed in July, despite testimony from a large group of doctors and a letter of support from 700 local medical professionals. Because Wardell filed it as an emergency ordinance, four of the five council members had to vote in favor.

On Aug. 4, Wardell offered up a less-stringent version of the ordinance that minimized enforcement measures and put fewer mandates on business owners and it passed 4-1, with Council President Jay Musleh voting no. Essentially, the ordinance required people to wear masks in public buildings and businesses, and for employees of businesses to wear masks at all times, unless they work in an area not accessible to customers.

Weakening the impact of the ordinance further were Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham and Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods saying they would not dedicate the manpower to enforcement efforts.

That vote drew a veto from Mayor Kent Guinn. But, again, the council met and voted 4-1 to override the veto and revisit the ordinance in 60 days. Tuesday’s meeting came after the 60-day deadline.

The most recent mask ordinance vote was supported by Councilmen Wardell, Justin Grabelle, Ire Bethea and Brent Malever. Council President Jay Musleh voted against the ordinance, as he had done previously.

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