Masks Protested as Commission Vote Nears

Fifteen anti-mask protesters chanted and waved signs at cars passing on Lake Hollingsworth Drive around 3:20 p.m. today. They moved to the lake after gathering at the nearby home of City Commissioner Stephanie Madden at 3. They had hoped to convince her to vote against continuing Lakeland’s mask mandate for another month when the City Commission votes on the issue on Tuesday.

It wasn’t clear if anybody was home at the Madden residence, and the protesters moved to the highly visible lake location when nobody came out of the Madden home. After 10 minutes at the lake, they said they were moving to the home of Commissioner Chad McLeod, who they also hope to convince to vote against the mandate. But first, they waved signs on South Florida Avenue near Ariana Street.

City commissioners voted July 2 to require masks inside indoor spaces other than the home when not social distancing as a measure to temper the spread of the coronavirus. They renewed the mask resolution on Aug. 3 and vote on another extension at their virtual meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The latest resolution, if passed, would remain in effect until Oct. 5, when commissioners will have the option of renewing it again. Other than the “sunset date,” the resolution commissioners will vote on Tuesday is identical to the first two, City Attorney Palmer Davis said Friday when the commission previewed the meeting agenda.

City Manager Tony Delgado said on Friday he would invite representatives from the Polk County Health Department and Lakeland Regional Health to give an update on the trajectory of COVID-19 in Polk County.

Madden said she would welcome an update from medical experts to get their perspective on opposing viewpoints: “Is it now safe to take them off because numbers are down or is it prudent to keep them another month because it’s actually what’s keeping the numbers down?”

The number of new cases per day in Lakeland and Polk has dropped significantly from the peak in mid-July, but the rate of new cases was slightly increased last week over the previous week.

The previous two mask resolutions were passed by the same 5-2 commission split. Voting for the face-covering resolution both times: Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Sara Roberts McCarley, Chad McLeod and Philip Walker. Voting against both times were Scott Franklin and Bill Read.

MORE: Ledger photo gallery and article

Tuesday’s 3 p.m. meeting is being held virtually rather than in person. The meeting can be watched live on Spectrum 643, FiOS 43 and streamed on lakelandgov.net. Information on the screen will give members of the public a phone number and code to use to make comments to commissioners.

Commissioners anticipate a large number of people commenting about the mask issue, so they decided Friday to move it near the beginning of the meeting.

Today’s protest was originally scheduled to take place outside the home of Mayor Mutz, but organizers moved it after saying they heard he might not be home.

Mutz responded on Facebook: “We’d love to host you as we definitely will be home! Looking forward to hearing your perspectives.”

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