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Ocala mayor: Police won't enforce governor's emergency orders

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn says he took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Photo: Joe Byrnes
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn says he took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Photo: Joe Byrnes

Mayor Kent Guinn announced Friday that Ocala police will not enforce the governor's emergency orders restricting businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor considers them unconstitutional. But he warned that the state could still crack down on businesses that violate them.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered a step-by-step reopening to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

In Phase One, some businesses remain closed. Others must use safety measures and limit customers.

It's hurting real people, Guinn said. "People that cry when I talk to them and tell me, 'Mayor, I'm losing everything I had. I worked 30 years in my business and I never thought I'd come to this. I'm going out of business.'"

[audio mp3="https://www.wmfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Guinn.mp3"][/audio]

About 15 supporters attended the press conference and cheered his decision.

One of them, Chris Schweers, is co-owner of Ocala’s Downtown Diner. He said they’re already ignoring the governor’s orders.

[audio mp3="https://www.wmfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Schweers.mp3"][/audio]

"We're going to go ahead and just make up our own mind," he said. "So we are prepared to break that. I haven't had a boss for 12 years. Unfortunately, the governor he's no longer my boss, I guess is the way you could say that."

The diner’s been open at a hundred percent for a while. But he said the customers have been slow to return.

Ocala Councilman Matt Wardell doesn't think the mayor should pick and choose which laws to enforce. And he says those orders are the law.

He said DeSantis wants to reopen quickly, but in the right way, following the numbers and moving methodically.

[audio mp3="https://www.wmfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/wardell.mp3"][/audio]

"I trust that this isn't going to be long, if things keep going the way they are," Wardell said. "So, it concerns me that what is working is working and to deviate from that, you know, it is concerning, yeah."

Wardell said his own workplace, the Reilly Arts Center, could be one of the last ones allowed to reopen.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.