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Punta Gorda Mayor Nancy Prafke and City Attorney David Levin at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. At the meeting, council members called for an emergency ordinance to be drafted that could lead to mandatory masks within the city limits.

SUN PHOTO BY DANIEL SUTPHIN

PUNTA GORDA — A citywide mask requirement could be coming to Punta Gorda.

While admitting that the issue is divisive, the city council asked city staff Wednesday to draft an emergency ordinance that could lead to mandatory masks within the city limits.

That ordinance will be read at the July 8 city council meeting.

“It’s not about taking people’s liberties away,” said Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews. “This is about keeping people safe and healthy and alive and it’s very real.”

“I see both sides of it, but I think we need to do something that is proactive that shows our business community and our residents that we are trying to keep them safe.”

City Manager Howard Kunik said they will focus on the indoor aspect while drafting the ordinance, meaning a requirement for people to wear masks when in public indoor places, such as restaurants, grocery and retail stores, etc.

There is a potential for exceptions to the rule but those have yet to be officially determined.

“This past weekend, I was at a few places and one place was very active and two people had masks in the retail place and the place was really crowded,” Kunik said. “The two people who had masks were the cashier and myself. Not one other person had a mask. It’s probably time where we do something.”

Another push for the mask ordinance was to support the city’s business community.

“I have heard from some of our small business people that they don’t think they are getting the foot traffic that they would be getting normally because people are afraid to go in because they can’t make people wear masks,” said Council Member Debby Carey. “If we made an ordinance, they would then have the power of the city to say, ‘No, you can’t be in here without a mask on.”

Several residents who commented at the meeting echoed Carey’s sentiment.

“Many residents, including myself, are not out and about shopping as we usually are,” Libby Schaefer said.

“It is not difficult to wear a mask,” Doris Blair said.

“Of the residents I’ve talked to,” said Mayor Nancy Prafke, “I’ve had those that were adamant to stay the course we’ve been on but probably had more that said maybe it’s time to do something. It’s divided from the people I’ve talked to.”

“I don’t want to have to tell anybody, ‘Well, you need to be doing this,’” Prafke continued, “but I feel like that (wearing masks) is something that people need to take to heart. And we’ve been really telling people this and we’ve been putting it out every week.”

Punta Gorda City Council backs PicklePlex membership fees

The city council showed its support Wednesday for PicklePlex of Punta Gorda to charge membership fees.

The PicklePlex organization has maintained free public play since opening in June 2019 at Florida SouthWestern State College, 26300 Airport Road.

The city of Punta Gorda contributed around $65,000 toward construction of the facility with one court and utility work.

That contribution led to the question of whether the city council should weigh in on the organizations proposal to charge players.

“I don’t understand why this was even necessary. As far as I am concerned you are a 501©(3),” said Council Member Debby Carey. “The money for the court was given to you and there were no strings attached to that; it was a donation. I continue to support you. If you want to have memberships, that your’s businesses business. That has nothing to do with the city.”

City Manager Howard Kunik reiterated that the contribution was a donation.

“We made a donation to name a court for the city of Punta Gorda,” Kunik said. “But it’s not our court per se, but we did pay the cost of one court with the city’s name ... like ‘the city donated the money for construction of a court.’”

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