Right back where they started

Ocala City Council President Jay Musleh has spent the past couple of weeks being The 1. That is, as the Ocala City Council wrangled over a proposed mask mandate, Musleh has been the model of consistency – until, oddly, the end – in being the lone council member to vote against said mandate.

For those who have not followed the twists, turns and intermittent bizarreness of the sheriff’s sideshow and a mayoral veto, City Councilman Matt Wardell thought it prudent for the city to enact an emergency ordinance mandating masks in businesses and other buildings – churches and governmental buildings, for example – where people gather and social distancing may be difficult. And given that Marion County’s COVID-19 numbers have soared since July 1 – by a shocking tenfold – it didn’t seem like a bad idea to get everyone on board taking whatever precautions we can to stop further spread.

Well, turns out a lot of people don’t think masks make any difference, despite near consensus of the scientific and medical communities that they do. Others think not having to wear a mask is protected in the U.S. Constitution. Others are just looking for something new to be divided and angry over.

Anyway, the Wardell ordinance was an “emergency” ordinance, meaning it required support from four of the five council members. The first vote, it passed 4-1, with Musleh objecting. The second vote to override Mayor Kent Guinn’s veto of the first ordinance passed 4-1, with Musleh being The 1. Then came, sigh, yes, a third vote on Tuesday.

At that point, Musleh had plenty to say.

By the third version of the ordinance was presented and had been stripped of virtually any teeth, Musleh observed: “I would observe this is a watered-down version of the previous ordinance, which was pretty watered down itself.”

Wardell mildly defended the process and the intent, saying he believes more people in Ocala are wearing masks today than before the mask mandate debate began. Maybe. I hope so. The doctors in town damn sure hope so.

But one thing everyone agrees on is the process from getting from introduction to final vote – all three of them – was ugly and, well, ineffective.

Ironically, as Musleh got ready to vote Tuesday night on the final version of the watered-down mask ordinance, he paused and noted, “I wish we were voting tonight to repeal the ordinance; that’s what I would really like.”

Then, the guy who had been The 1 all along, joined his fellow council member and voted in favor of the final ordinance. And he was no longer The 1, bringing the city pretty much right back where it started – with soaring COVID-19 numbers and no mask mandate.

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