VENICE — Failing to wear a face covering in the city could cost you up to $500, if an ordinance mandating the wearing of a mask is adopted Monday.
But the draft ordinance has 14 exceptions that could excuse noncompliance, including one for anyone alleging that wearing a mask would be “detrimental to their health, safety or welfare,” without a requirement that they be able to document the impact on their health.
The ordinance was supposed to have been considered July 29 but that special meeting was rescheduled after two Council members said they wouldn’t be attending.
Venice Vice Mayor Chuck Newsom said he had not been consulted about the date and was unavailable, while Council Member Joe Neunder, a chiropractor, said he had patients scheduled and could not attend.
The City Council voted 5-2 last week to direct staff to prepare the ordinance. Newsom and Neunder were the votes in opposition.
Newsom said then that he’d never vote to make people wear masks because it would infringe on their civil liberties, while Neunder said he didn’t have enough time to consider the matter because it wasn’t on the agenda.
Council members Helen Moore and Nick Pachota agreed to allow an ordinance to be drafted but have previously voted against a mandate, while Mayor Ron Feinsod and Council members Rich Cautero and Mitzie Fiedler voted for one.
The absence of Newsom and Neunder might have appeared to make the ordinance more likely to be adopted, with at least three of the remaining five members supporting the concept.
But under the city’s charter and state law it’s more complicated than that.
The charter provides that four members constitute a quorum so that business can officially be transacted. It also requires four affirmative votes to adopt an ordinance, however, so either Moore of Pachota would have had to change their prior position.
Neither has taken the position Newsom has, that they would never vote for such an ordinance.
But the charter is trumped by state law, which requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Council — five votes — to adopt an ordinance on an emergency basis, after one reading instead of the two separate readings that would otherwise be required. That would mean both Moore and Pachota would have to support it.
And they still will on Monday when it does come up for a vote, unless Neunder or Newsom changes his mind.
Emails to the Council are running at least 7 to 1 in favor the passage of an ordinance, with a number of writers saying they no longer patronize downtown businesses because too few people are wearing masks.
“Because of this, my family no longer shops at stores in Venice and we are encouraging all of our neighbors and friends to do the same,” Maureen Graybill wrote.
The few emails in opposition say that masks are ineffective or even harmful, though most medical authorities are urging they be worn.
Two doctors at Sarasota Memorial Hospital who are treating COVID-19 patients went on record last week recommending that the Council adopt an ordinance, as the city of Sarasota did several weeks ago.
The final few “whereas” clauses of the proposed ordinance state that the Council finds the inconvenience of wearing a mask to be minimal compared to the benefit, with masks necessary and in the best interest of residents, workers and visitors.
It would require every person “living, working, visiting or doing business” in the city to wear a face covering in “any indoor location” other than a residence or a lodging not accessible to the public unless an exception applies. Common areas of a condo, apartment or lodging building would be included.
A face covering would be required in public outdoor locations as well, except in the company of household members or if there’s an applicable exception.
The principle exceptions include people who are social distancing — staying at least 6 feet apart, including when exercising; people who are eating or drinking; people inside a motor vehicle unless it’s a vehicle for hire; children under 6; and people claiming a detrimental impact on their health, safety or welfare.
“If this exception is being asserted for health reasons, the person asserting this exception is not required to carry or produce documentation verifying the health condition or to specifically identify the health condition to the compliance officer or law enforcement officer,” the draft states.
It’s unclear whether that means a claim that a mask would be detrimental to someone’s safety or welfare would need to be documented on request and, if so, what would satisfy the requirement.
The ordinance states that its goal is voluntary compliance, with a penalty being assessed only as a last resort.
Noncompliance would be treated as a noncriminal civil infraction, like a traffic ticket, with a penalty of up to $500. But if the violator elects not to contest the citation before the Code Enforcement Board, the fine is $50.
The ordinance will be voted on at a special meeting to be held online via the Zoom platform at 1 p.m. Monday.
The agenda for the meeting, with the ordinance and instructions for connecting to the meeting attached, is at VeniceGov.com under the “Meetings” header.