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Longboat Key takes steps toward in-person meetings

Some commissioners will still participate virtually next week.

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  • | 1:50 p.m. September 29, 2020
The town of Longboat Key's mandatory mask policy runs through the end of November.
The town of Longboat Key's mandatory mask policy runs through the end of November.
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A quorum of at least four commissioners will conduct business in person next week as the town begins to shift away from a virtual format in place since March. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis' orders last week removing the remainder of Florida's COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prompted the change in plans for town leaders. Three additional commissioners can participate in the Oct. 5 meeting virtually. 

“We’ll still have a virtual component where some of the commissioners may be able to remote in as long as we have that quorum in place,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “The public would also be able to observe and remote in through our Zoom platform to participate and or speak at the public meeting. There will be a bit of a transition between now and the Oct. 5 meeting, and we're still working on some of the logistics with that.”

It’s unclear which four commissioners would meet to fulfill the quorum. Harmer said in an email to commissioners the town plans to employ social distancing on the dais and in the commission chamber gallery, limiting the number of people allowed inside. 

March 23 marked the last time the Longboat Key Town Commission held an in-person meeting.
March 23 marked the last time the Longboat Key Town Commission held an in-person meeting.

March 23 marked the last time commissioners held an in-person meeting to conduct town business. However, the majority of commissioners attended July’s groundbreaking of the Fire Station 92 project.

DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-244 has suspended individual fines and penalties related to local mask ordinances. However, that does not rescind the adopted mandatory mask ordinance the town commission has extended through November.

Harmer said the town would focus on educating the public about the importance of wearing masks. The town can still enforce the mask policy against private businesses, according to town attorney Maggie Mooney.

“Nothing in Executive Order 20-244 repealed our ability to enforce our ordinance against the business,” Mooney said. “So again, while it disallows individual fines and penalties, it did not repeal any kind of enforcement action against a business.”

Harmer said the town has had excellent compliance with its mandatory mask policy and the town has not issued any citations.

“We have a vulnerable population here that has overwhelmingly supported the protective measures we've undertaken through the crisis, and we benefited from these measures with a low rate of infection and death,” Mayor Ken Schneier said. “[The] governor's new executive order should change none of this. 

“Our laws will remain the same, and our expectation of the responsible behavior of our businesses and citizens and visitors will remain the same. Masks on and social distancing will remain the name of the game on Longboat Key until we are through this pandemic.”

Data from the Florida Department of Health shows Longboat Key’s 34228 ZIP code has 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Manatee County, which is a slight increase in cases during the last few weeks. The Sarasota County side of the island shows fewer than five cases of COVID-19, which has remained the same for months.

However, At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop expressed her concern about the state health department misreporting cases in the 34228 ZIP code.

“I continue to have concern about how well they're really monitoring this because if two-thirds of the cases on Longboat Key were reported in the wrong county, somebody is clearly missing some attention to detail at the state level,” Bishop said.

Harmer said two of the three cases should be placed on the Sarasota County side instead of the Manatee County. The state has yet to update its dashboard to reflect those changes as of Tuesday afternoon.

“I think this is one of those continued challenges of being in two counties, and so they report to the ZIP code level and not to the city level,” Harmer said. “And so when they reported the ZIP code level, they have this extra burden to try and divide it up.”

Harmer and town staff will continue to monitor COVID-19 data provided by the state and county health departments, especially with plans to open Longboat Key's public beach parking on Thursday. The town's public beach parking has remained closed since June 30.



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