And that includes fines if they are warranted. The Mayor wants the town manager to do his job and enforce the ordinance. The conversation was initiated by Councilman Bill Veach who also wants to see the town’s mask ordinance more strictly enforced. The ordinance has been in effect for months and not a single ticket has been issued.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt is not a fan of having town employees enforce the controversial ordinance because he believes it may lead to confrontation. In addition, any resident could simply deny a code officer his or her ID to avoid getting a ticket for not wearing a mask. And it’s clear Lee County deputies are not going to get involved in enforcing the town’s mask ordinance.
When Veach questioned Hernstadt about enforcement on Monday he said the staff is not prepared or trained to deal with confrontation. “They are trained to educate and walk away. This issue has proven to be highly emotional. However, we work for the council and if the council wants us to start doing that, we will do it.”
The town’s ordinance covers both residents and businesses. Residents and visitors are required to wear a mask, even outside, if they are unable to social distance. They are required to wear masks when they go into businesses. Businesses are required to have employees wear a mask or face up to a $500 fine. Governor Ron DeSantis recently issued an Executive Order stating that “the collection of all fines and penalties throughout the state associated with COVID-19 enforced upon individuals are suspended.” Town attorney John Herin has advised the town that the town ordinance is still enforceable, fines included.
Mayor Ray Murphy, a big proponent of the mask, seemed to target businesses specifically. He said if there’s a complaint, and there have been complaints from residents, that a certain establishment is not following the ordinance, you don’t have to go down there and get in a confrontation with them. All you have to do is go down there and look in the window.
Murphy said he’s more concerned with the establishments themselves that are saying to hell with your ordinance. “I had heard of that happening several weeks ago. I’m not for going after every individual with a mask patrol and throwing them down on the sidewalk and slapping the cuffs on them. I don’t want to do anything like that. Our whole goal here has been education. We’ve been trying to educate people all along. Maybe we’re not getting the word out that Fort Myers Beach has a mask ordinance in effect. And we expect for our safety, and for your safety, it to be followed. We’re trying to do our part to stop the spread.”
Veach, quoting a study from Vanderbilt University, said mask mandates are effective and studies have been showing that. He suggested that if someone complains and the town investigates a location and finds they are not in compliance that location should be fined. The Mayor added, ‘How else do you get compliance?”
Councilman Dan Allers said this will lead to confrontations to which the Mayor responded, “that’s just life in the big city. That’s the way that works.”
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said she does not want to micro-manage the town manager.
The Mayor disagreed that the council was micro-managing the town manager. “We passed an ordinance that you voted for Vice Mayor that has provisions in it, and has fines, and goes about how to enforce it. It’s up to the town manager to enforce. I don’t think that’s micro-managing. I think that’s asking him to do his job.”
Councilman Jim Atterholt voiced his concern that the town was selectively enforcing the ordinance by targeting businesses. Atterholt and Allers did not vote for the mask mandate.