On Monday, despite the Governor’s Executive Order that states local governments cannot limit how restaurants operate, the town of Fort Myers Beach has threatened Nervous Nellie’s with a $5,000 fine for a planned St. Patrick’s Day party. The town claims the business is in violation of the town’s COVID ordinance.
The owners of Nervous Nellie’s are planning to have three bands at their restaurant on Wednesday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. The bands will be playing on the restaurant’s property, just like any band plays at any other restaurant on the beach.
At Nervous Nellie’s, there’s a sign on the front door that reminds guests that masks are required. They will even provide masks if customers forget to bring them. Employees also wear masks.
It’s unclear where the town threat of a $5,000 fine comes from. The maximum fine on a business in the town COVID declaration is $500.
The town of Fort Myers Beach has had a mask mandate in place for about a year. Back in September of 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and said any mask fines that were issued to Floridians did not have to be paid. Town attorney John Herin has told the town council they can enforce their local mask and social distancing ordinance. The targets of the town have been mostly restaurants.
There has never been a mask mandate in Lee County or the State of Florida. COVID cases are continuing to decline in Lee County and the number of people receiving the vaccine is increasing all across the state and the country. Governor Ron DeSantis is now being praised nationally for how he handled the virus, while keeping the economy open. He’s even being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for 2024.
On Monday, a Code Enforcement officer took a printout of a Facebook post to Nervous Nellies which promoted their March 17th event (see below). That’s when the threat of a $5,000 fine was made. The code officer also told the owners they needed to apply for a special event permit, which is unusual because the bands will be playing on Nervous Nellie’s property. The code enforcement officer also warned the owners that they would be checking their business several times that day, although checking them for what was unclear.
If the town plans to go after Nervous Nellie’s on St. Patrick’s Day, they may choose to use their local COVID ordinance to target the restaurant for not keeping customers socially distanced. If that’s the case, the town may have to explain to the state why it’s doing so. Here’s an excerpt from the Governor’s Executive Order concerning restaurants: “Section 2. Right to Work and Operate a Business No COVID-19 emergency ordinance may prevent an individual from working or from operating a business. “Section 3. Restaurants. In order to safeguard the economic vitality of this state, any restaurant may operate as set forth below. A. Restaurants, including any establishment with a food service license, may not be limited by a COVID-19 emergency order by any local government to less than fifty percent (50%) of their indoor capacity. If a restaurant is limited to less than one hundred percent (100%) of its indoor capacity, such COVID-19 emergency order must on its face satisfy the following: 1. quantify the economic impact of each limitation or requirement on those restaurants; and 11. explain why each limitation or requirement is necessary for public health.
In recent weeks, the town has been targeting Times Square businesses as well, claiming their music is being played too loud.