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DeSantis wants a closer look at local mask orders. Counties and cities shrug.

The governor’s request Friday came after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman put DeSantis on blast over not wearing a mask in his city.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Business & Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears (right) hold a round table with local bar and brewery owners at Green Bench Brewery in St. Petersburg on Sept. 3, 2020. This photo didn't sit well with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who took to Twitter on Friday to blast the governor for not wearing a mask.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Business & Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears (right) hold a round table with local bar and brewery owners at Green Bench Brewery in St. Petersburg on Sept. 3, 2020. This photo didn't sit well with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who took to Twitter on Friday to blast the governor for not wearing a mask. [ STEVE CONTORNO | Steve Contorno ]
Published Sep. 4, 2020|Updated Sep. 4, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — For months, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said counties and cities should take the lead in deciding whether to require people to wear masks.

On Friday, though, his office sent out a letter requesting the state’s 67 counties send him copies of their mask orders and other coronavirus pandemic measures they’ve taken.

State and local governments have battled for years over who calls the shots where and who controls what. Often, the term “home rule” is used to defend the powers of county and municipal governments.

And, in recent years, county commission chambers and City Halls have reverberated with that phrase as local officials assert state overreach.

An added twist: the governor’s request came a day after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called out the governor on Twitter for not wearing a mask when at a roundtable in the Sunshine City on Thursday.

DeSantis then announced his request on Friday on Twitter.

Kriseman’s spokesman Ben Kirby said Friday afternoon that the mayor and City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch were reviewing DeSantis’s request, but that — on first blush — it looked aimed at counties, not cities.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said he was not alarmed by DeSantis’ request and did not necessarily view it as a threat to repeal local ordinances.

“I’ll dig into it on Tuesday,” he said, noting the request’s timing hours before the Labor Day holiday.

Burton said that the county has stayed mostly in lockstep with the governor’s phase 1 and 2 reopening orders with two exceptions.

Pinellas County implemented a mask ordinance on June 23, which requires face coverings to be worn in most indoor public places.

The county also has a local requirement that bar patrons be seated to be served. But Burton urged the importance of local governments to have autonomy for making decisions about their own communities.

“There are parts of the state that are very different,” Burton said. “We have beaches and lots of tourism versus other areas that have a whole other set of conditions, so our actions should speak to what’s occurring in our area. We need to have flexibility to react accordingly.”

Burton noted that one of DeSantis’ itemized requests from the counties, for anticipated termination or renewal dates of all orders, was “a little leading.”

The County Commission has not set a targeted date for lifting its mask ordinance and has not established criteria for what conditions would have to be met in order to lift the mandate.

Across the bay, Tampa and Hillsborough County both have mask orders. Neither government had much to say on Friday other than they’re reviewing the request.

“Pasco County is aware of the governor’s request and is prepared to provide all the required documentation ahead of the September 15 deadline,’‘ said Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine on Friday.

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