Pinellas County lies to “non-essential” businesses about their responsibilities under county order

In its public communications, Pinellas County is misrepresenting its own “Safer at Home” order as it pertains to non-essential businesses. The county claimed in this press release that “non-essential businesses must close storefront operations and customer foot traffic if they can’t meet CDC guidelines on social distancing.”

However, the order (page 3) says that such businesses “are required to enforce CDC social distancing and group gathering guidelines as it applies to their workforce. There is thus no requirement that they control the behavior of customers, vendors, or any person that doesn’t fall in to the term “workforce.”

On its official Facebook account, the county also claimed (here) that “non-essential businesses are required to enforce CDC social distancing and group guidelines” without adding the aforementioned important fact: that the enforcement responsibilities of these businesses only pertain to their workforce.

The county’s Facebook post is also shown on the left with the relevant text highlighted.

These are just two examples of the misleading county communications about this aspect of the order, as well as other aspects of the order. The county has deemed that if a business is not on their list of “essential businesses,” then it is a non-essential business. One thing we can be sure of is that most if not all of those “non-essential” business are essential to those who earn their livelihoods from them.

The order tasked county administrator Barry Burton with developing this notice that non-essential businesses must have visible at their place of business in order to stay open to the public. The notice says that all persons “within this business shall strictly adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines.”

That language suggests that Burton knew that the responsibility for adhering to the CDC guidelines falls on the persons visiting it, not on the businesses.

Barry Burton

The county order has the force of law,  and any violation of it is a second degree misdemeanor. Therefore, by incorrectly messaging that the burden of enforcement falls on these non-essential businesses, the county is essentially trying to deputize them in to law enforcement activity without the board of county commissioners having decided to do so.

We want to be fair, because there is an old saying that one should not attempt to explain with malice what can adequately be explained by ignorance or stupidity.

We called the county’s “24/7 on-call public information officer” to see if we would get a response to our questions. The person answering (name withheld) said that non-essential businesses could remain open as long as they enforced the CDC guidelines.

We asked “enforce them against who? Employees? Customers? Delivery people?” The county information officer incorrectly answered “all of them.”

Burton’s notice also adds to the confusion by using the term “employees” instead of “workforce,” the latter being the term used in the order. We asked the county a number of questions, including why Burton used the term “employees,” and why he said “strictly adhere” when the order says “adhere.” We asked: does the county have a militaristic mindset during this crisis?

We did not receive answer from the county to any of our questions by our publication deadline. The county did  not say if it intended to change the information it provided in press release and social media about the obligations of these “non-essential business.”

The businesses that the county commission has resolved and defined to be “non-essential” may go out of business if they falsely believe they have to close when they don’t have to.

James E. White of Seminole, retired Army and retired DoD, commented on Facebook that “it appears the the county is running a business – yours out of business.”

Click the above image for a larger view

The notice that law enforcement is posting at non-essential businesses contains a phone number for a tip line where citizens can call in and “report a violation of these requirements.” The willingness to report “violations” appears to be strong, as seen by the comments on the left from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office Facebook page.

In the situation discussed in those Facebook comments, reporting the incident in question would be fruitless because private gatherings are not covered by the order. At least not yet.

As can also be seen in the comments, some people questioned the wisdom of a particular form of authoritarianism during the lively discussion, or whether obedience to authority was always (or ever) warranted.

Whether future county orders will quash such dissenters under the guise of incitement remains to be seen.

The eagerness to inform on others suggests that the need for the county to communicate correct information about what the order says is all the more urgent.

Here is our previous reporting during this pandemic crisis:

Kriseman’s coronavirus executive order invokes powers he doesn’t have
DeSantis’ illegal executive order enables local government malfeasance
Covidiot touchfest as Pinellas imposes severe Covid-19 restrictions
Confusion about Pinellas “safer at home” order, authoritarian threats
Sheriff violates county order with pandemic notices at businesses

We list our previous articles to make this point: the pandemic is leading to pandemonium in Florida and around the world. “Pandemonium” is the name invented by John Milton for the capital of Hell in his book “Paradise Lost” in 1667.

“Pandemonium” by John Martin, his most famous painting (1841)

Here at The Tampa Bay Guardian, we avoid injecting religion in to our reporting. However our “pandemic leading to pandemonium” aphorism is no more religious than the old colloquialism that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

As shown in our reporting, elected officials across the political spectrum are trampling rights that citizens retain – also during a declared state of emergency.  These politicians have been aided by bungling, imperious and shifty bureaucrats who can afford to not care because much of the judiciary has also abdicated its responsibilities.

All of these people, politicians and public sector employees including judges, have their pensions guaranteed by Florida Statutes. Yes, those same Florida Statutes they chose to selectively ignore. More seriously, they are also ignoring the Florida and US Constitutions.

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

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