Mask chaos: local officials' disagreement leaves residents confused

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. (WCJB)-- Tuesday morning, Alachua County commissioners voted to end its mask requirement, but they changed their tune that afternoon in a special meeting with Gainesville's City Commission.

Gainesville City Commissioner Gail Johnson said, "The decision that was made about the masks...you all are literally putting a monetary [value] on life."

City commissioners expressed extreme concerns, saying if the county keeps their decision to reverse its mask rule, Gainesville would write its own order requiring residents within city limits to still wear face masks.

Gainesville City Commissioner Hutch Hutchinson said, "I'll just let you know we'll be happy to hand you the lawsuits that we've received regarding masks as well as the excellent work of our legal staff in crafting a defense."

After hearing hours of commentary, the county commission reversed its vote, reverting back to Sunday's emergency order which still required masks.

But one city within county limits is taking the question off the table.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said, "After witnessing the back and forth, the chaos and confusion that happened on Tuesday, the Newberry City Commission felt that we can no longer be a part of that type of government and that we needed to be a unified force a calm and stabilizing force."

The City of Newberry held an emergency meeting last night, where commissioners decided to create their own emergency order, opting out of the Alachua County restrictions and strictly following the guidelines set in place by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"The only time Newberry's order will change now is when the governor changes his order," Marlowe said.

But the question remains: "Can they do that?".

According to Alachua County, they can't.

Alachua County Spokesperson Mark Sexton said, "Just like we cannot go more lenient than the governor, but we can go more strict, the same applies to cities."

The county's authority to require masks is being challenged in court.

"Today, concerning Alachua County's authority to make masks mandatory, the judge in the Eighth Circuit Court hearing denied the request for an emergency injunction motion on all counts," Sexton said.

So there's no injunction, putting a pause on the mask rule.

But, the county is still facing that lawsuit in circuit court, and another in federal court.

Meanwhile, Sexton says everyone still needs a mask, even in Newberry.

But, Mayor Marlowe says you don't.

"Our understanding is that cities are allowed to manage their own emergency services and we have now adopted an emergency order that is in conflict with the counties," Marlowe said. "That means that once we are in conflict our emergency order reigns inside of the City of Newberry."

Newberry Resident Adrianne Pickett said, "I really believe in personal freedoms, so if you feel like you need to wear a mask because it makes you more comfortable, or you have a compromised immune system, then by all means wear a mask."

A local private practice attorney tells TV20 that at the end of the day, only a judge can decide who is right and who isn't.