Mayor vetoes mask mandate

File photo: Ocala City Hill is shown in Ocala on Friday, June 19, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted August 10, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed Ocala’s newly passed mask ordinance on Monday, saying it violated citizens’ constitutional rights and put an unfair burden on businesses to enforce it. He also said Ocala police – which, as mayor, he oversees – have no intention of enforcing the emergency act.

The mayor’s veto now must go before the City Council to determine whether it will stand, and the mandate will be rescinded, or councilmen will override the veto and the mandate will remain in place. The mask mandate was passed by the council on August 4 by a 4-1 vote. Overriding a mayoral veto requires four of the council’s five votes.

When asked why he would veto the ordinance when four council members had already shown support for the mandate – as is required for emergency ordinances like the mask one — Guinn responded, “Because somebody might change their mind.”

It would not be the first time someone on the council has changed their mind on this ordinance. Councilman Brent Malever voted against the mask ordinance at a July 21 council meeting. Two weeks later, he changed his mind and voted for a slightly modified mandate. Guinn said he hopes Malever can be swayed again.

Guinn said he vetoed the ordinance because he believes it violates our right to freedom of religion by requiring masks be worn in houses of worship. Under the ordinance, he added, churches also are deemed a “business,” and the mayor said government cannot declare a church a business. He also questioned whether government can mandate anyone to wear a “medical device.”

Moreover, Guinn said there are only 15 Ocala Police Department patrol officers on duty at any one time and trying to respond to mask violations would be imprudent when there are other more serious crimes for police to address. He said he and Chief of Police Greg Graham have discussed enforcement of the ordinance and agreed they will not respond to mask calls.

“If there’s no punishment, then where’s the mandate,” he said.

That said, Guinn said he supports wearing masks in public as a deterrent to the coronavirus. He said he believes people should just do the right thing without needing a mandate to force them to do it.

“People say, ‘Mayor, you give people too much credit that they are going to wear masks because it’s the right thing to do.’”

Councilman Matt Wardell, who introduced and championed the mask mandate, said he was not surprised by Guinn’s veto and said he has requested an emergency council meeting to deal with the veto.

Wardell said he does not believe the mayor understands the details of the ordinance. For example, Guinn told a business group last week that businesses could be sanctioned if individual patrons violate the mandate. That is wrong, Wardell said. Businesses must post a sign on their front door and ask patrons to wear masks. If they have done that, they have fulfilled their obligations under the ordinance and will not be punished for customers who refuse to don a mask.

Under city charter, an ordinance becomes law without the mayor’s signature after 10 days, unless it is vetoed. So, if the council overrides the veto, the mask mandate would become law on Saturday.

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