Public officials and the concerned public aired their opinions.
Then they needed to mask up, as all of Manatee County is under rules for face coverings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
County commissioners voted 4-3 July 27 for a resolution requiring people to wear coverings inside businesses. Reggie Bellamy, Betsy Benac, Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore voted for the resolution and Vanessa Baugh, Steve Jonsson and Priscilla Trace voted against.
The vote came in the final week of the fifth month of the outbreak in the United States.
The debate, not the first for county commissioners on the issue, lasted five hours at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, with commissioners lining up 4-3 on the measure.
Debate at the dais
“I think it’s wrong on so many different levels,” said Jonsson, who represents the district that includes Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and Cortez. “I think it’s a bad policy decision.”
Baugh said a mandate is not necessary since many businesses require patrons to wear masks to receive service.
“What do we think we can do better than what the businesses themselves are doing at this point?” she asked.
“We shouldn’t have to mandate this,” said Commission Chair Betsy Benac. “But the reality is we do have to mandate it because people aren’t wearing masks. They don’t think that it’s necessary. They think it’s against their prerogative to make decisions about themselves, but it is about public safety.”
“It’s crazy, I never ever thought I’d be in a situation where local government would have to do this,” Benac continued. “But we live in a state where the governor has chosen not to do it. We live in a country where the president has chosen not to do it. It has fallen down to local government.”
Addressing the dais
“I think you have to listen to the facts and experts,” said Dr. Scott Clulow, a Bradenton physician who said face coverings decrease the rate of infection.
Public health agencies at international, federal and state levels recommend the widespread use of face masks, as do leading health organizations, including the American Medical Association.
Also, numerous studies show adherence to universal masking policies reduce the transmission of the virus.
“I know we hear everything about everyone having certain rights — and I don’t want to wear this mask as much as anybody else — but if it means protecting even one person it’s worth it,” Clulow said.
Bradenton resident Adam Baum also spoke in support of a mandate.
“Everybody on the board has let me down for not doing something sooner,” he said. “The fact that you guys have let all these Trump supporters and anti-maskers get to your head and affect your vote against the health and safety of our community really shows how little of a backbone you guys have.”
On the other side of the debate, Ellenton resident Gary Guerin said, “This is not political. It’s about the mandate. It’s not even about the masks. …A mandate should scare people.”
“As commissioners, I mean really, how dare you even think about mandating something like this,” he continued. “This is not a communist country.”
About 30 people addressed commissioners in person at the convention center. More than 10 more people called into the meeting that was broadcast live via cable and the internet.
Covered on Anna Maria Island
The new resolution applies countywide but does not override Holmes Beach’s mandate, which requires people to wear face coverings whenever social distancing can not be achieved. The city’s emergency ordinance does not include an age-based exemption for children.
Holmes Beach’s ordinance includes a $250 fine for a violator’s first offense, as well as a $500 fine for a second offense.
The county resolution also does not supersede Anna Maria’s mandate, which requires people over the age of 2 to wear face coverings in any indoor location other than a home when social distancing can’t be maintained. Anna Maria’s order includes a $50 fine for violations.
Both cities enacted mandates in early July.
Referring to county commissioners’ vote, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said July 30 that she was “very pleased that they made the decision.”
The county resolution established new policy in Bradenton Beach, where commissioners have declined to enact a mandate.
The city officials discussed the issue again at a meeting July 28, when Mayor John Chappie said the city could opt out of the county mandate, but he recommended supporting the resolution.
Commissioner Jake Spooner said he supports the county resolution because he’d seen several people in city businesses without masks despite the city commission’s recommendation to wear them.
Commissioners voted 4-1 against opting out of the county resolution, with Ralph Cole voting “no.”
“I believe in people’s freedom of choice,” Cole said.
There was no public comment at the city meeting.
Active COVID-19 policies on AMI
- Resolution 20-759: Declaring a local state of emergency;
- Executive Order 1A: Tolling of time frames for processing applications;
- Executive Order 3A: Waiving restrictions to allow “virtual” meetings;
- Executive Order 47: Prohibiting set-up of beach equipment prior to actual rental on beach;
- Executive Order 48: Prohibiting rental of motorized scooters and micromobility devices;
- Executive Order 49: Requiring face masks and social distancing.
Policies can be found online at www.cityofannamaria.com.
- Resolution 20-928: Declaring a local state of emergency;
- Ordinance 20-516: Allowing open-air dining.
Policies can be found online at www.cityofbradentonbeach.com.
- Resolution 20-08: Declaring a local state of emergency;
- Emergency Ordinance 20-11: Requiring facial coverings.
Policies can be found online at www.holmesbeachfl.org.
— Ryan Paice