Confusion about Pinellas “safer at home” order, Sheriff Gualtieri makes authoritarian threats not based in law

After our highly visited “covidiot touchfest” article yesterday on Pinellas County’s top officials not following the rules they seek to impose on others, we really wanted to write an article providing more clarity today.

However, sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s “we can do this the easy way or the hard way, and the hard way isn’t going to be pretty” veiled threats (video) of retaliatory and authoritarian enforcement makes our task impossible.

Gualtieri’s statement, coupled with the way a sheriff’s deputy yesterday disregarding statute in dealing with a reporter (we recorded it), make’s the legal landscape quite clear.

That landscape is: you should expect that if you simply don’t completely agree with a sheriff’s deputy’s interpretation of the county’s “Safer at Home” order, then things will get ugly. Ugly for you, that is. Ugly, after all, is the the most common antonym of the word “pretty” that Gualtieri used. We will have occasion in this article to twice more look at the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The facts before us make it impossible for us to provide guidance to our readers. Therefore, we instead reach for the low-hanging fruits of bad government, the incompetent people who govern us, and the lamestream media who purport to be able to “explain it all” to us. Call it gallows humor.

Pat Gerard

“So what’s the difference between an order and a directive,” Pinellas County commission chair Pat Gerard asked. “None, it still falls under a resolution,” county administrator Barry Burton replied.

“Why would we not we say ‘order’ then,” Gerard asked. “We chose a different word, you could charge it to ‘order'” Burton replied. “It was really messaging, you know. To appeal to that.”

With that, Burton didn’t exactly provide clarity. What is this thing we citizens are supposed to abide by under pain of imprisonment and/or hefty fines? Is it an order, is it messaging, or is it an appeal?

The above exchange (video of it) came one hour in to yesterday’s emergency county commission meeting. Staff had proposed this resolution which issued directives, but didn’t order citizens or businesses to do anything.  The question of the use of the word “directive” is one that we also had here at The Guardian, and that also came up today in Hillsborough.

The dictionary definition of the noun “directive” is “something that serves to direct, guide, and usually impel toward an action or goal.”  Thus it certainly sounded like the proposed county resolution was giving advice rather than ordering anything.

Burton continued to equivocate, speak in generalities and did not concede that “directive” was the wrong word to use. Both commissioner Dave Eggers and sheriff Bob Gualtieri then spoke of the need for clarity.

“This [proposed] resolution, if adopted, has the force of law,” county attorney Jewel White stepped forward to clarify (video). “So we’re acting under chapter 252 in the Florida Statutes and it provides that a violation of this order is a second degree misdemeanor.”

“It’s not an order,” Gerard said.

“Violation of your resolution,” White responded curtly. “It’s a second degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 60 days jail and/or a $500 fine.”

However, the only second degree misdemeanors mentioned in the 26,000 word chapter 252 are in 252.50, which talks about violations of “any rule or order.” It doesn’t say that it’s a misdemeanor to violate a “directive.” That word “directive” also being known as “advice.”

Christine Beck

When Hillsborough County today passed their own “Safer at Home” order, their county attorney Christine Beck contradicted White by saying that “the difference between a directive and an order is that a directive is viewed as strongly encouraging compliance, but it would not be enforceable through law enforcement. An order is enforceable.” (video of Beck’s statements).

The elected politicians on the Pinellas County commission ultimately changed the language from “directive” to “order,” just because they wanted to do so. Not because it was necessary in order to be able to enforce it under chapter 252. No, not at all.

The entire 6-minute exchange and simple dictionary definitions together highlight the incompetence of Pinellas County’s top staff, the very people who think they should micromanage your actions during this crisis. The exchange also highlights the confusion citizens and business will face in complying with the order that was actually adopted.

Barry Burton

Burton’s waffling later on another matter further demonstrated his confusion about words actually mean. Burton spoke about the county’s role in a state program emergency business loan program.

“It’s not our program,” Burton said about the county’s inability to cut red tape in that state program. “We are providing an ombudsman service.”

However, the word “ombudsman” doesn’t mean what Burton thinks it means.

The dictionary definition of “ombudsman” is “a government official appointed to receive and investigate complaints made by individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials.” If only we had an ombudsman to investigate the capricious acts and overreach of our public officials during this crisis.

We can only surmise that Burton meant “intermediary” or “facilitator” or a word with similar meaning, not “ombudsman.” The word “ombudsman” also doesn’t mean “order.”

The Tampa Bay Times is adding to the confusion with their Q&A article, which is incorrectly captioned as a “stay at home order.” It’s a “safer at home” order, not a “stay at home” order.

The Tampa Bay Times article, published on Wednesday March 25th, also incorrectly states that the order “expires seven days from now, when the county’s declaration of a local state of emergency expires.” That would mean expiration on April 1st, which would be quite the April Fool’s joke, given that this is not when it expires.

The local state of emergency declared by Pinellas County ends at 3 P.M. one week after March 27th, as can be seen in the extension of it the commission adopted yesterday. That means that, unless it it extended further, it ends at 3 P.M. on April 3rd, not on April 1st.

Citizens want clear answers on what to do and not do under the “Safer at Home” order, but no one can say what government will do in response to any perceived violation of the order.

Read the “Safer at Home” order, read between the lines and make up your own mind about what is good and responsible behavior on your part.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

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