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County commission makes no decision on youth activities

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

During their Regular Meeting on May 26, the Alachua County Commission discussed what to do about the recent announcement from the governor that he was lifting “all restrictions on youth activities, effective immediately.” Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson said the school board is “apparently” going to defer to the county commission “or at least attempt to be consistent with whatever we come up with.”

County Attorney Sylvia Torres said the governor said he trusted parents to make decisions for their kids but that he was not pre-empting local governments. She said that if they did nothing, they would still have the provisions in their Emergency Order regarding following CDC guidelines (“though I will tell you the CDC guidelines are very high level, not particularly specific”) and regarding wearing masks and not gathering in groups of more than 10. 

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Hutchinson said, “If we do nothing, then there are no rules, and, and so it’s not like in some cases we’ve had the state backstop the rules, so in this case it’s up to us.”

Torres pointed that the local Emergency Order exempts government, which includes the school board. “So it’s nice that they’re going to follow our order. They’re not required to follow our order because they are government.”

Paul Myers, Administrator for Alachua County for the Florida Department of Health, was asked if he had any recommendations. “I would say that those who are vulnerable, those especially over the age of 65, underlying health conditions, those who are compromised, should consider not participating, whether as a counselor or as a spectator. And those who live with somebody who’s in that vulnerable population should consider not participating as well.”

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler wanted to invite the school board to the City/County joint meeting on Friday morning. She also wanted to invite the chair from the Alachua County League of Cities. She said she was in favor of doing “something for the young people of our community because I can see what the COVID is doing to my psyche, and I’m sure that these young forming minds are going to need some sense of normalcy down the road with summer activities coming on.” She also said she’d received emails from fraternal organizations like the Elks Club, which also want to re-open.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said he wasn’t in favor of having a huge meeting “with 17 elected officials on a Zoom call,” but he also thought the school board needed to have a detailed discussion about this in a format that allowed them to take their time with it.

County Manager Michele Lieberman pointed out that Friday’s meeting agenda only includes public safety and the Joint Aviation Unit. She also pointed out that there are private camps that are not affiliated with the school board and that they need guidance because school ends this week. 

Commissioner Ken Cornell moved that they send a letter to the governor, requesting approval to open up vacation rentals, and send a chair letter to the school board, asking them to weigh in on what they would like to see from the county with regards to summer camps and youth sports (Byerly emphasized that should happen “as soon as possible”).

Cornell asked about fraternal organizations, and Torres said the County’s current Emergency Order states that they must remain closed. Cornell added to his motion “that we treat fraternal organizations, and that if they can’t social distance, they be required to wear masking inside.” Torres added that if they’re licensed like a bar, they’ll still be limited by the governor’s order. Torres said fraternal organizations would be treated more like religious organizations than retail under the order.

Although all the commissioners were present, Hutchinson said the motion passed 4-0 (they took a voice vote, not a roll-call vote, and they all appeared to vote “aye”).

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