Ocala mask ordinance will lapse on April 3

Councilman Jay Musleh is shown during a January Ocala City Council meeting. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted March 16, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee, Ocala Gazette

Councilman Jay Musleh is shown during a January Ocala City Council meeting. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

After sparking intense public debate, the City of Ocala’s emergency mask ordinance will end quietly on April 3.

During Tuesday night’s city council meeting, council members voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution encouraging face coverings for indoor locations. Councilman Matt Wardell did not attend the meeting.

The move to allow the emergency mask ordinance to lapse came after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently issued an executive order that cancels fines related to local government COVID-19 restrictions on people and business. While there was a fine originally included in Ocala’s mask ordinance, Mayor Kent Guinn – who has oversight of the Ocala Police Department – announced the department would not issue fines.

Originally adopted in August and extended twice, Ocala’s mask ordinance was widely deemed as toothless. The ordinance did not require residents to wear masks, but rather required businesses to post signs stating that masks were required. The emergency ordinance required renewal every 60 days.

While some challenged the previous ordinance for its lack of sanctions, others, like Ocala resident Rock Gibbony, commended those who fought against strict enforcement.

“Thank God for the mayor and the chief of police for not going after anybody for breaking the ordinance,” Gibbony said referring to Guinn and the late Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham.

Quinn and Graham we’re not in favor of a punitive anti-mask ordinance. Graham died in a plane crash in October.

“These face coverings are basically useless. I mean, they do not stop particulates the size of a virus… what it does do is dehumanize people, ” Gibbony said. “People are guilted and shamed into wearing them because they’re told they’re going to help other people. It’s poppycock.”

Council President Justin Grabelle, a supporter of the ordinance in its original form, did not argue against letting it lapse, but did bemoan the lack of enforcement.

“I would have like to have seen the ordinance actually enforced at some point. I think it’s dangerous when we decide to pick and choose how we are going to enforce laws,” he said.

Councilman Jay Musleh, who voted against each of the previous emergency mask ordinances, voted for the resolution on Tuesday.

“Even though the prior ordinance really had no teeth in it… with no enforcement provisions in it, the governor of Florida declared that enforcements are not permitted,” Musleh said. “This is strictly a resolution. So, it’s not requiring anybody and it certainly doesn’t replace the old ordinance.”

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