“You had me at hello,” said no sane person ever to a telemarketer. Yet “telemarketing” is one of the types of businesses that Pinellas County government designated as an “essential service” on April 7th. However, county staff didn’t obtain approval from the state before doing so, making their action a violation of Governor Ron DeSantis executive order EO 20-91 issued six days earlier.
“The list we put out specifically says guidance and is in reference to the governor’s order,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said in an e-mail. “We have to interpret the governor’s order and the guidance document is the way in which we clarify questions.”
But the addendum list of essential businesses we asked Burton about and which he called a “guidance document” doesn’t have the word “guidance” anywhere in it. That addendum list is shown on the right.
The county’s press release that announced this addendum list of “Newly Designated Essential Services” and other measures did use the word “guidance,” but used it as follows: “the updated guidance also adds several types of businesses to a list of non-essential services, which means they must close under the order.”
“Must close” makes it clear that the word “guidance” isn’t mere advice. Therefore, any “guidance” on essential businesses must be cleared with the state first. More on that later.
A separate FAQ document created by the county and also dated April 7th says “GUIDANCE” in the headline. However, it doesn’t use the word “guidance” anywhere else in this document, a document which does use the word “order” 11 times.
“What we put out is to clarify how we interpret and enforce the Governor’s Order,” Burton said in an e-mail. “It is not us adding to the list but to add clarity to ambiguity that come from questions we must interpret [in order] to enforce.”
While Burton claims that county guidance is not “adding to the list” of essential services/businesses, the aforementioned press release said the county’s action “adds several types of businesses to a list of non-essential services.”
Thus the county’s contorted position is that it’s “adding to the list” of non-essential businesses while simultaneously providing no list and only “guidance” on essential businesses…by publishing a list of those types of businesses.
Snakes could learn a lot about slithering from such word sorcery.
This mental pretzel that the county made for itself isn’t the only serious problem with the its approach. Since the headline for the list uses the word “designated,” the question arises: designated by whom?
That “Governor’s Order” Burton spoke of says in section 3.B that “other essential services may be added under this Order with the approval of the State Coordinating Officer.” A public records request revealed that no such approval had been obtained by Pinellas County from the State Coordinating Officer.
“We’re in too serious of a time for people to be playing games with language,” County Commissioner Charlie Justice told Burton last week.
Justice was criticizing Governor Ron DeSantis for being unclear and playing politics with his executive order. Justice claimed that the governor wanted to be able to say “I didn’t close any businesses, the counties did it.”
Now county government is playing a game similar to the game Justice accused the governor of playing. The county’s game is called “our order didn’t close any businesses, our order that certain type of businesses ‘must close’ was just guidance. Even though sheriff’s deputies may show up and tell you to close.”
One thing the governor’s order is very clear on is counties and cities not being able to declare a businesses essential without state approval. The county simply can’t designate any business as “essential” without state approval, that would be too easy a way to subvert a governor’s executive order.
Given the facts, the county’s violation of the governor’s executive order is likely deliberate. The Democrat county commission prefers to have Barry Burton play politics with the Republican governor rather than minimize the negative impact of the pandemic on people’s finances and lives.
However, there is another possibility: that Burton thought that the governor’s executive order was just “guidance.”
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.