Jane Castor’s stay-at-home order sets up clash with County Administrator Mike Merrill

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Merrill claims Castor's order is invalid.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is moving forward with a stay-at-home order expected to begin Wednesday despite a claim from Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill that her order is not valid.

“Pursuant to the discussions which took place at the Emergency Policy Group meeting of March 23, 2020, the vote by the Group to not institute a Stay-at-Home Order at this time, and in order to ensure unity of action throughout the county, I am confirming that decision by directing that no Stay-at-Home order shall be applicable in any portion of Hillsborough County until further direction by the Emergency Policy Group, unless as may be necessary under my delegated authority,” Merrill wrote in an administration order Monday.

That followed a Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group vote to present an ordinance for consideration Thursday implementing a countywide curfew. The vote also indicated that a proposed ordinance for a stay-at-home order would come sometime in the “future.”

Despite Merrill’s claim, Castor’s administration is moving forward with its own order, setting up a potential feud between the city and county.

“The Mayor will continue to take the steps necessary to protect the residents of Tampa,” spokesperson Ashley Bauman wrote in response to an inquiry about Merrill’s claim.

Merrill did not answer how he would block Castor’s order but offered a short statement.

“Yesterday, the Emergency Policy Group discussed at length the merits of a shelter in place/stay in place order. They agreed to work through the policy and practical details to be prepared should it be needed.  While I maintain the authority delegated to me by the Emergency Policy Group to make decisions in the best interest of the nearly 1.5 million residents in this community, the Group took decisive action yesterday giving clear direction and charting a path forward,” Merrill wrote.

Castor updated residents and members of the press during a Facebook Live address Tuesday after announcing her plan earlier in the day.

Castor did not respond to any questions related to Merrill or the Emergency Policy Group.

Instead, she highlighted what the order will look like.

“It allows movement, it allows personal freedom,” Castor said. “If you want to go out for a run you can do that. If you need to go to work — whatever you need to do.”

Essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations will remain open. The order will also allow restaurants to continue providing takeout or delivery. Any business that could incorporate social distancing protocols, would also be allowed to remain open.

Only nonessential businesses that cause people to gather would be closed.

Castor again hammered the concept of instead incorporating a curfew. She argues that order is far more restrictive because it requires people to be in their homes at certain times. Castor said she worries that could have the opposite effect to what’s intended by having people rush at the last minute to complete tasks or run errands.

The stay-at-home order, she contends, allows individuals to carry out their needed errands on their own schedule, thus spreading out traffic throughout the day rather than cramming it into shorter hours.

Castor also announced that a testing site would open Wednesday at Raymond James Stadium, though testing supplies are still limited and not all people would be able to receive a test.

The county currently has 900 tests it can administer.

“We are still nowhere near testing the number of individuals we need to,” she said.

So far Tampa is the only city moving forward with a stay-at-home order. Pinellas County Commissioners are still considering one, and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is holding off on a decision in hopes that the county will act.


Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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