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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry called an emergency meeting of the City Commission on May 26 to discuss actions by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). During the May 20 Newberry Emergency City Commission meeting, Commissioners asked that a resolution be drafted for Mayor Jordan Marlowe’s signature the following day in response to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) actions on May 19.

During the BOCC meeting on May 19, County Commissioners voted 3-2 to rescind its mandatory mask requirement and instead made the wearing of masks “strongly recommended” rather than required. The mask requirement order was put in place earlier in the month to help curtail the spread of COVID-19 as the state begins Phase 1 of the governor’s Plan for Florida’s Recovery.

However, later the same day, in a joint meeting with the City of Gainesville, the BOCC flipped their earlier decision, once again requiring the mandatory wearing of masks. Not only had Marlowe received calls from citizens and business owners, but other Newberry City Commissioners had as well.

On the heels of the County’s flip/flop decision, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the constant changes in face mask requirements were causing stress and confusion in his city.

In response to the County’s decision, the City of Newberry called the May 26 emergency session in an attempt to address the confusion. During that meeting several City Commissioners said they thought the BOCC should have talked with the other municipalities in the county prior to making changes based on one city’s preference, especially since the County was not in sync with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order.

Several Commissioners voiced similar opinions. “This is not about facemasks,” said Commissioner Rocky McKinley, “it’s about stability.”

“Citizens are looking for guidelines,” Marlowe said. “Instead there is a lack of structure in our county government.”

During the meeting Commissioners indicated they had received several telephone calls regarding the county’s inability to make a decision and stick to it. “What we’re trying to do tonight is to find some stability for our citizens,” Marlowe said.

“The governor is getting advice and medical data in consultation with health officials,” said Marlowe. “I think it is in the citizens’ best interest to follow the governor’s lead on this issue.”

Although the city attorney was tasked with developing a resolution, Commissioner Tim Marden ultimately made a motion to update the City’s current Emergency Order to mirror the governor’s order and authorized the mayor to sign the resolution the following day so it could be implemented immediately. Commissioner Rick Coleman seconded the motion. Hearing no public comment, the motion passed unanimously.

During the May 26 City Commission meeting, City Attorney Scott Walker talked about Resolution 2020-25, which his office had drafted for the mayor’s signature. “We raised a couple of constitutional grounds for our case for objecting to the county’s position.” One issue was that the county’s order was so broad and void for vagueness that it would be difficult to require someone to be subject to criminal penalty because of the vague nature of the order. “We believe that it creates a concern on the part of implementation of that order and that due to that fact, the City of Newberry declines to enforce the order.”

The resolution specified that there is to be coordination between the County, the cities and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “For those reasons we believe enforcement is problematic,” Walker said.

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