City Councilman Rey Neville, who survived a bout with COVID-19, still believes Vero Beach should require that masks be worn in indoor public places to slow the spread of the pandemic – and he hasn’t given up on such a mandate.
In fact, Neville said last week he planned to meet with City Attorney John Turner to discuss the possibility of proposing a mandatory mask ordinance that would require only a majority vote by the council to pass, rather than the super-majority needed for emergency ordinances.
It’s the same protracted process the council is required to follow to adopt any non-emergency ordinance, Turner said, explaining that published public notice of the proposal must be given and two public hearings must be held before any vote on the new city law.
So, if Neville follows through, the soonest City Council members could vote on such an ordinance would be Sept. 1. He had until noon Wednesday to put his proposal on the agenda for the council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning.
“That’s the only way we could get it passed,” Neville said. “Right now, we have two council members who are a hard ‘no,’ one hard ‘yes,’ and two who seemed to be leaning ‘yes’ when we were considering the emergency ordinance.
“We have a chance to get the three votes we need.”
If Neville proposes a mask ordinance and there’s a sudden or significant decline in local coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, the council can simply halt the process and postpone any scheduled vote, he said.
When the City Council discussed a mask mandate last month, Joe Graves and Robbie Brackett opposed the emergency proposal, questioning the effectiveness of face coverings in preventing the spread of the virus – despite overwhelming evidence that masks work – and saying the decision to wear them should be voluntary.
Neville strongly endorsed the mandate, and both Mayor Tony Young and Vice Mayor Laura Moss appeared to support the proposal. Young said during the meeting that “doing nothing is negligence.”
However, emergency ordinances require at least a 4-1 vote for approval, so the council took no action.
“I felt there was an urgency to act because we have to protect the ability of our hospital to provide the care that we need, and we have to protect the people in the demographics that are vulnerable to the virus,” Young said last week.
“We know there’s a very vocal element out there that is totally against any mandate,” he added. “But there’s also a significant group of people who very much want us to take stronger measures.
“Our actions should be dictated by the conditions on the ground.”
Moss said she doesn’t expect Graves or Brackett to change their positions “at this time,” so going through the normal process for adopting ordinances might be the only way to get a mask mandate.
“We shouldn’t do anything that’s not a meaningful change,” she said. “If we do pass legislation, we need to be able to enforce it.”
Two weeks ago, the council agreed to step up the city’s efforts to educate the community on how the virus can be spread and encourage residents to wear masks in indoor public places.
“I fully support that effort because not everyone is clear on the fact that this virus can be transmitted by people who don’t have symptoms,” Neville said. “COVID-19 is not like the flu or the common cold. People who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic can spread it.
“The state should be running public service announcements in prime time on television and on social media, but that’s not happening,” he added. “So, we need to do what we can locally.”