TAMPA (WFLA) – Outside of the Tampa City Hall building Monday morning, a small group of protestors gathered on Monday morning to voice their displeasure over the city mask ordinance.
Inside, at a city council meeting, two Tampa bar owners faced the possibility of losing their liquor licenses because of the ordinance.
Council members heard testimony from several code enforcement officers who say they’ve given warnings and citations to bar owners about the mask ordinance.
One officer told council members it’s difficult to enforce the ordinance because bar owners and customers know what’s going on, describing it as a game of cat and mouse when they try to check on a bar.
“The majority of the people were very aware of the order, they’re just not following it. When we walk in and start taking photographs, especially the management or the staff working there, they immediately start to put their masks on at that point,” said the officer.
The owner of the Purple Heart Bar in Ybor says he’s aware of the ordinance but has difficulty getting customers to comply.
“It’s been very difficult, I mean you have customers who come in that want to come out and have a good time and yet you’re down their throat telling them to put their mask on. It’s damaging to the business. Every time I enforce it, I have customers leave,” said Purple Heart owner Keith Nortas.
His attorney says the ordinance is not being enforced evenly across the city.
“I think it’s extremely unfair to be so selective. They walk around Ybor, they walk around SOHO, bar to bar to bar. Code enforcement admitted they didn’t go up and down Dale Mabry, they didn’t go to New Tampa unless there was a complaint,” said attorney Mike Nelson.
The Purple Heart bar has only been open since December. Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder says he didn’t believe the owner had been given sufficient time to comply with the mask order.
“As the hearing went on, the evidence showed that prior to December 18th there is no evidence of anyone from the city visiting this particular club because this particular club had only been open less than a month,” said Dingfelder.
Council members could not agree if there had been an offense at the bar. The council split their vote 3 to 3 with one member absent. The council decided to continue the hearing until March when all council members will be present for a vote.
The council did find the bar 7th on Grove in violation of the mask order, but decided not to suspend the liquor license of the bar because of improvements made by the owners.