Lakeland mayor remains hopeful for city mask mandate

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said Tuesday he would enact a citywide mask mandate if he had the same powers afforded to other mayors in Florida.

“I absolutely would have if I could do an executive order. I can’t. And I really want to hear through the voice of a commission,” he said. “I like our form of government. I’m not advocating a change in that. I’m sure with reconsideration, we’ll readdress this.”

He repeated Tuesday he was stunned by the Lakeland city commission’s decision Monday not to take up his emergency mask order for a vote.

“Not to even have a second on that proposal was a shock to me,” he said.

The mayor said it is now in other commissioners’ hands.

“It’s a 4-3 decision and I am confident that we’ll have some people who represent ‘it’s an infringement.’ I’m more confident we’ll have a majority of commissioners that want to save lives,” he said.

Several of Polk County’s surrounding counties – including Hillsborough, Pasco, Osceola and Orange – have required masks to be worn in some capacity.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden credited the commission’s reluctance to the quick turnaround. Commissioners were notified of the meeting Saturday and asked to vote on the ordinance Monday.

Madden told 8 On Your Side she is concerned about Lakeland’s rising case numbers and hospitalizations.

“We have to begin to educate the population that it’s one thing to think about things nationally or on a state level, we have to pivot and think about things in Lakeland,” Madden said.

Masks, she points out, are better mitigation than another shutdown.

Commissioner Scott Franklin, who is running for U.S. Congress, reiterated his statement that there is inconclusive evidence showing masks are beneficial.

“I fully support asking our citizens to wear them. Instead of an ordinance, I was looking for a resolution,” he said.

Meanwhile, the owner of the Joinery, a new venue in downtown Lakeland with several food and drink vendors, is now requiring masks for all customers, as of Tuesday.

“We ask that if you get up from your seat to use the restroom, to get a refill, to order some more food, that you don your mask,” co-owner Jonathan Bucklew said. “I wouldn’t say we changed our mind, I would say the statistics changed our mind.”

Anyone who does not comply, he said, will be kindly asked to leave.

Enforcement proved to be a sticking point for Lakeland small business owners polled by Bridge Local, a local network that connects business owners. Sixty of the 100 business owners polled were against a mandate, according to Bridge Local founder Chrissanne Long.

“How is it going to be enforced?” Long said the business owners asked. “Is it now going to be incumbent on my staff to kick somebody out of my voice or out of my business, refuse them service. What were our responsibilities as businesses going to be?”

“It isn’t an enforcement question. People comply. It is an opportunity to say ‘you have to because they said,’” said Mayor Mutz.

County Chair Bill Braswell and Commissioner George Lindsey have not expressed interest in enacting a countywide mandate.

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