St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman pushes for statewide stay-at-home order

The mayor said if Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t take that step, he may issue a stay-at-home order for the city.
City of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday pushed for a state-wide order to limit non-essential travel.
City of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday pushed for a state-wide order to limit non-essential travel. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 23, 2020|Updated March 24, 2020

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ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday supported the idea of a statewide order asking people to stay in their homes in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“A statewide, uniform, reasonable order limiting non-essential movement and activity will better protect Floridians and prove far more effective at flattening the curve than multiple policies among 67 counties and hundreds of cities and towns," the mayor wrote on Twitter.

If not, Kriseman said, he foreshadowed that he is ready to issue a similar order for the city.

“Without such an order, St. Petersburg and municipalities across the state are likely to move forward on their own," he said.

DeSantis has been reluctant to take the drastic measure of shutting down all non-essential businesses statewide and limiting travel to only essential travel. He doubled down on Monday.

“You simply cannot lock down our society indefinitely with no end in sight,” DeSantis said at a hastily arranged news conference inside his Tallahassee office on Monday afternoon. “I can tell you that is not sustainable. That is not something the society would accept.”

California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada and Pennsylvania have announced shelter-in-place orders or bans on non-essential businesses. Massachusetts’ governor ordered on Monday all nonessential businesses to close.

In the absence of a statewide order, cities and counties have been left to consider local prohibitions on business and travel. In Hillsborough County on Monday, local leaders on an emergency policy committee discussed the logistics of both a stay-at-home order and a curfew. They asked attorneys to return with draft orders on both those measures for their consideration at a future meeting.

In Pinellas County, that discussion could happen as early as Thursday.

Although Pinellas County’s March 13 state of emergency declaration gives Burton authority to unilaterally issue a stay-in-place order, he said he would prefer the County Commission make the call as an elected body. No meeting has been called yet for Pinellas leaders to discuss a stay-in-place order, but Burton expects them to deliberate the topic “in the near future."

“That’s a significant issue and I think requires debate from our elected officials," he said.

Burton stressed the importance of regional consistency in these decisions, echoing Kriseman’s cry for uniformity.

“The more we can do as a region is important," he said. "I think it’s important our messaging is consistent ... we can make our own actions but I don’t want to do it in a vacuum.”

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Even if Pinellas County ultimately decides not to issue a county-wide stay-at-home order, Kriseman has the unilateral authority to issue one within city limits while the city remains under a state of emergency. His comments on Twitter were the first time a St. Petersburg leader publicly advocated for a stay-at-home order.

He has the backing of more than half of his City Council members, some of whom said they would prefer a statewide rule but would support a city order if necessary.

“I do not think that cities can do this alone and it will take the Governor making this difficult but necessary decision in order for it to be effective,” City Council member Brandi Gabbard said Monday. "That being said, if the Mayor decided that it was in the best interest of St. Petersburg to lead the charge, I would wholeheartedly support that decision.

Gabbard added that in Pinellas, which has 24 municipalities, a countywide order would at least achieve some local uniformity.

Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders agreed: "I do agree with the mayor and was hoping that the state would enact a stay-at-home order. And eventually it may come to that. But if not, I hope that our local government would be willing to address a city-wide stay-at-home order to further protect our residents’ safety by reducing the probability of spreading COVID-19.

Council member Amy Foster said she drove around over the weekend and saw folks ignoring social-distancing guidelines. She said she’d prefer a “regional approach” but would support a plan specific to St. Petersburg.

Her main concern, she said, is buying time.

“I am in favor of any action that protects our citizens and helps provide space and time for surge planning for our hospitals and other emergency management,” Foster said.

Two Council members, Ed Montanari and Robert Blackmon, spoke favorably about a 14-day city stay-at-home order. Montanari said he “could” support that measure, if health professionals advocate for it, noting that there would have to be an exemption for essential private businesses to operate.

Blackmon said he favors a 14-day closure of non-essential businesses to limit potential exposures while tests and protective equipment remain in short supply. He said he’s not in favor of restrictions non-essential travel as enforcing that measure would be too challenging.

Council member Gina Driscoll said her support of a city-wide order would depend on the specific restrictions. She noted some cities, counties and states that have issued stay-at-home orders have allowed people to be outside to exercise and walk their dogs, visit parks and pick up restaurant to-go orders, so long as they abide by social distancing guidelines.

“It’s important to find a balance between flattening the curve and maintaining quality of life elements wherever that can be done safely,” she said.

Council member — and anticipated 2021 mayoral candidate — Darden Rice said she backs a city-wide stay-at-home order. She said folks can take precautions to keep themselves safe.

“That means to stay at home to the greatest degree possible, practice social distancing and regular hand washing,” she said. "Our local businesses will be in far worse shape if we don’t enact some common sense policies now to lessen the impact of the pandemic.

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman did not respond to a request for comment.

Times staff writers Tracey McManus and Mark Puente contributed to this report.

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