There will be no vice-mayor any time soon

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee City Council discussed the possibility of having a vice-mayor or something similar at their meeting on April 7. In the past, the mayor appointed someone to take his place if he were unable to attend a meeting for some reason, and Mayor Dowling Watford said he had been thinking about Councilman Bobby Keefe’s comments at their last meeting when Councilman Keefe mentioned the mayor attended the meeting while sick with a cold, potentially sharing his germs with other council members. Mayor Watford wanted to know what the procedure would be to appoint a replacement in the event he was ill. It was discussed whether it would be proper to elect or appoint a vice-mayor while the mayor was well so this person could act in his place when it was necessary. Mayor Watford said because of the circumstances we are in right now and because of his age, he did not want something to happen and the council not have something in place. In the past, the mayor appointed his own temporary replacement, and he did not want to leave them with that burden if he ended up in the ICU or something.

After consulting with Attorney John Fumero, the council decided the charter, as it is written now, calls for the council members, not the mayor, to appoint someone as needed. If the mayor cannot attend for some reason, someone will be appointed to act in his place for that meeting only. The council may choose to change this at some point, but for now, this will be how it is handled.

Mr. Fumero brought up the level of Lake Okeechobee and said there are concerns the water level is nearing water shortage level and suggested they request the Army Corps of Engineers be made cognizant of the water shortage and not make any releases from the lake. He drafted a letter for the city to send. Many in the agricultural community have sent similar letters in the last few days, he said.

Mayor Watford expressed gratitude to the county commissioners for the way they have handled things since the crisis began. Their Facebook updates have been very helpful, he said. He said the city has been low-key because the county and the sheriff’s office have the lead on this. “Of course, I think we have all been sharing their posts and messages,” he said. He also said Rep. Cary Pigman’s office and Senator Rick Scott’s office have reached out to them. In addition, they had a couple conference calls with White House staff and mayors throughout the country, and those have been interesting. The state emergency operations center has held a weekly conference call, so they have been in the loop but have been working in the background. “I just wanted to let you know we aren’t just sitting here,” he said.

Tiffany Collins, Okeechobee Health Dept. administrator started by saying how proud she is to live in a community where so many are embracing all the different strategies to keep each other safe. She showed off a mask that someone in the community made for her and said all the staff at the health dept. were provided masks by people in the community who wanted to be sure they would be safe. She said she is proud of all the medical community and health care workers and first responders all working together to keep things going. “I’m just grateful to be a part of this,” she said with tears in her eyes.

She went on to explain the CDC recommendations about masks. She said if you are well or believe you are, you should wear some sort of fabric covering when you are out and about, because they believe you can be spreading the virus even if you have no symptoms and have no idea you have the virus yet. The purpose of the cloth mask is more to keep you from spreading your germs to other people when you speak or sneeze or cough than to keep you from catching something from anyone else. The cloth is to protect others from you! They are a good idea while out doing (here she emphasized) ESSENTIAL services — grocery shopping, pharmacy, getting gas or working at your essential job.

Please leave the surgical masks for health care workers, those who are caring for someone who is sick or those who are actually sick and were told by their healthcare provider to wear them. The respirator N-95 masks should only be used by health care workers and first responders, so please don’t wear them to Walmart, she said. “Wear the cloth ones.”

In other news, the city council voted to modify its alcohol ordinance to allow package sales on Sunday. This will put the city’s ordinance in concert with that of the county.

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