OKEECHOBEE — After much consideration, Okeechobee City Council members voted to declare a public health emergency at their meeting on March 17. Council members were concerned that issuing the declaration would cause the public to panic, and stressed it was, in part, a financial decision. If they need to make any purchases related to the crisis, they may be able to file for reimbursement for the costs if they declare the emergency.
The primary purpose, said City Attorney John Fumero, is to empower certain individuals to act expeditiously — specifically, the police chief and the mayor. “The mayor, in consultation with the police chief, can exercise certain emergency measures including, among other things, closing public places.”
Councilman Wes Abney said the president, the governor and more than 20 counties have declared, so he would be in favor of it as well. “It doesn’t hurt to do it,” he said. “I think it’s better to do it and not need it than not do it and need it.” He did ask about changing the wording a little bit so it wouldn’t sound quite so serious but was told by Mr. Fumero, “It’s like pregnancy. You’re either pregnant or you’re not.”
Councilman Bobby Keefe said, “The bottom line is, this is a state of preparedness.”
Police Chief Bob Peterson said he felt good about the decision, because a lot of people out there are not taking it seriously at all. “We don’t want them to panic, but we do want them to prepare,” he said.
If any action is taken under the resolution, it will be communicated to the council immediately.
In other business, Jennifer Tewsbury of the Economic Council of Okeechobee suggested the council find a way to livestream its meetings so they can follow the guidelines of limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.
Courtney Moyett gave the council an overview of tobacco retail licensing regarding the new federal Tobacco 21 Law and strongly recommended they make their own tobacco ordinances.
Mayor Dowling Watford declared March 2020 as Red Cross month, and John and Peggy Dubose accepted the proclamation on behalf of the organization. Mrs. Dubose spoke about swimming lessons beginning in the summer and said she is particularly excited about the junior lifeguard program.
Willie Hall, was awarded a five-year longevity service award by Public Works Director David Allen. Mr. Hall is also being promoted to the role of lead operator.