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Council to return to City Hall July 9; may require masks

Megan Holmes



St. Pete City Hall
St. Petersburg City Hall, courtesy of St. Pete Flickr.

St. Petersburg City Council members learned Thursday in a Council of the Whole that they were scheduled to return to in-person public meetings at City Hall as early as July 9, but many members expressed concern over return protocols, especially potential mask requirements.

Council members go on their annual summer break starting June 13. The July 9 City Council meeting would be the first meeting back from break, and potentially the first in-person meeting to take place since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It would also be the public’s first chance to visit the newly renovated City Hall, which has been closed for renovations for nearly a year, forcing Council to meet in the city’s Sunshine Center.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin explained that the choice to meet in person – or not – is up to Council, and July 9 is simply the marker that administration chose as a deadline for readiness of policies and procedures to return.

Included in those policies and procedures will be protocols for shared spaces, new security considerations, elevator use guideline, and guidelines for mask usage. Tomalin said that a preliminary draft of those protocols will be completed over the next week, then vetted by the mayor’s cabinet.

Multiple council members expressed concerns regarding the return to public meetings while the vaccine for COVID-19 appears a far-away possibility. The discussion began when Council member Amy Foster asked Council to develop shared norms based on consideration of each member’s health needs and the health of the public. While the topic of some members’ specific health and childcare concerns has arisen spontaneously in policy conversations, she explained, “We haven’t explicitly addressed how we as a body are going to work together.”

“I have real concerns about – as we start to come together in meeting spaces and we’re inviting the public to come – what that is going to look like,” said Council member Brandi Gabbard.

“I personally am very adamant about the conversation regarding mask wearing once we come back to public meetings,” Gabbard said. “I want to see us get very serious about a mask mandate within City Hall as long as that is something legal for us to do … that is something I feel very passionate about for everyone’s safety. The public, all of us, our employees, everyone.”

Council member Darden Rice echoed Gabbard’s concerns, and invoked the administration’s “St. Pete Way” social responsibility campaign.

“I think that the best way for us to communicate the St. Pete Way is for us to exhibit and model the behavior that we want to see in the community,” Rice said. “I think that we know the vaccine is a long way off, this is going to be a long year, and I’m concerned.

“I wear a mask because I’ve likely been exposed to COVID, and I don’t want to get people sick, I don’t want to get sick either. There were a lot of people coming in sick to city hall even before this, so I really want to take every step possible to exhibit safe and healthy behaviors.”

Council member Gina Driscoll asked administration to consider following Tampa City Council’s lead. That body will meet in the expansive Tampa Convention Center, replacing its traditional dais with desks spaced six feet apart. “There is something to be said for meeting in-person,” Driscoll said.

Council chair Ed Montanari echoed many of the same concerns and expressed interest in potentially pursuing a split option, allowing council members to attend either online or in-person meetings depending on their own person circumstances. Each of the options are under legal consideration.

Tomalin said that the administration is discussing all of those concerns, including masks use, temperature checks and short health screenings prior to entrance. She also emphasized that information about COVID-19 spread and mitigation are changing in real time, so the practices in place now may not be the same as those necessary July 9.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Nicholas Rogone

    June 1, 2020at7:57 am

    The Council should be concerned about masks being the protocol for City Hall.
    But just as important, they should be concerned about the TOTAL lack of people wearing masks in St Pete.
    Take a walk any day in any section of downtown and you will see almost no one wearing a mask.
    In fact you won’t even see masks dangling below the chin.
    Needs to change.

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