Masks encouraged, but not required, among village meeting goers

Islamorada council members have been meeting in person for several months. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

Islamorada Village Council Chambers are open to village residents who wish to attend regularly scheduled and special meetings. Those taking seats inside the chambers at the Founders Park Community Center are strongly encouraged by the village to wear masks, but they’re not required. 

Members of the public can still view and listen to meetings from their homes by watching Monroe County’s channel 77 or logging on via Zoom. 

A special meeting called by Mayor Buddy Pinder on May 13 lasted just over an hour, as members discussed the next steps following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ set of executive orders announced May 5 that put an end to local COVID restrictions. Monroe County commissioners followed up by rescinding their local mask ordinance. 

Islamorada followed Monroe County’s mask ordinance, which at the time had a June 1 sunset. DeSantis’ orders put an end to that, however, as he left those decisions, such as facial coverings, to businesses and individuals. With masks optional, village council members elected to increase plexiglass barriers around the dais to protect them and attendees. 

In addition, council members said they’d like to move the table where they sit to the very back of the room to increase distance from the gallery. To encourage facial covering, those who enter the chambers will be presented a mask if they don’t have one. It’s up to the person, however, as no requirements are in place any longer. 

“I say if we open meetings, we say that we prefer they wear a mask,” Pinder said. “That’s all we can say.” 

With back-and-forth discussion came vehement disagreement among some council members over DeSantis’ actions. Councilman David Webb said the governor’s orders were “driven by political agenda” and were “not in the best interest of the community.” Councilman Mark Gregg said the governor’s actions were “unacceptable.”

“I’m pissed off that the governor makes me do my job that risks my health and my life and my family,” Gregg said. “I’ll deal with that in my own way when it comes time to vote.”

Councilman Mark Gregg. CONTRIBUTED

Gregg went on to say that the village dais must balance protection of each council member and the public with the right of residents to attend meetings in person.

“I’m a strong believer of that,” he said. 

Discussion over possible measures went as far as separating mask-wearing individuals from the unmasked to accommodate comfort levels. Talks also proposed keeping the public who wish to approach the dais away unless invited up, to protect the council members. 

“I want reasonable precautions for us,” Webb said.

Council members Henry Rosenthal and Pete Bacheler said they don’t believe there will be problems among the public. 

“I like to think that our Islamorada residents are really good people,” Bacheler said. “I think they’re going to understand and like the mask idea themselves.

“We can’t just say June 26 it’s all over. … We’re a very transitory community,” he continued. 

New cases of COVID-19 over the past week are averaging around seven. Between May 14 and May 17, the department of health reported eight new cases. Islamorada witnessed three new cases in the last week. 

As for vaccinations, just over 40,100 residents in Monroe County have received their shot. 

Village staff members will continue to participate in meetings via Zoom, according to Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett. Staff working inside Village Hall and visitors entering through the doors for service have the option to wear a mask. 

Council members are set to hold a workshop meeting on Wednesday, May 19 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss village manager candidates with the executive search consultant Colin Baenziger. Twelve finalists are in the running for the position. 

A regularly scheduled meeting is set for the next day, Thursday, May 20, at 5:30 p.m. Council members will hear from Bob Eadie, Monroe County health officer, regarding the pandemic. The dais will look for a recommendation on whether to proceed with events in the village. The village council froze special use permits on events until June 1 as a COVID protection measure.

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).