How Hillsborough County’s safer at home order might not have happened without Jane Castor

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She turned a hard no into a solid yes.

Over the course of 72 hours a group of elected leaders in Hillsborough County went from expressing serious reservations about implementing a stay at home order for residents and visitors to approving almost the exact same plan they had previously rejected.

The shift in mindset wasn’t due to a change in circumstance, even though coronavirus cases over those three days drastically increased.

Not one member of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Management Group (EPG) referenced the uptick in numbers when they went from a “we don’t have enough information” mindset to a serious tone of limiting social interaction.

So what changed? Tampa Mayor Jane Castor did.

To get a complete understanding of how Castor went from having very little support for an order to getting one approved requires zooming out and examining the events that transpired over the past several days.

Last weekend Castor made comments to several media outlets saying she would be surprised if a stay at home order didn’t happen this week, possibly even very early in the week.

This set the tone for the week’s conversation. The Tampa community, and Hillsborough County at large, began to buzz in anticipation. Comments flooded social media in a show of support, though a few expressed reservation and even outright contempt.

Fast forward to Monday. The EPG met to discuss options. Castor laid out her plan.

Her proposed stay at home order would have required nonessential businesses that are unable to adhere to social distancing recommendations to close. Essential businesses, like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and banks, as well as any business that can shift its workforce to remote work, would be permitted to stay open.

Castor said under her order individuals would still be able to do things like go for walks or bike rides, but social distancing recommendations would be enforced and anyone congregating in groups would be broken up.

But six of the eight members of the EPG balked — all of the board’s Republicans and one Democrat.

“There’s nowhere to go anyway. The only people I see out are going to the grocery stores and the pharmacies,” said Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross, a Republican. “I question the real impact this is going to have anyway.”

Hillsborough County School Board Chair Melissa Snively questioned the impact a stay at home order would have on law enforcement and itsability to enforce the order.

“Without a thoughtful plan in place then it wouldn’t be prudent to move forward with something like this,” Snively said.

She supported instead a curfew that would give residents and visitors a hard deadline to be in their homes and open the door for law enforcement to have easier reason to question a person out during the curfew.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman agreed, prompting her to make a motion to move forward with a curfew. Asked by Castor to also include moving forward with a stay at home order, or at least have a draft ordinance brought back for consideration on Thursday, Murman delivered a hard “no.”

Enter Tuesday. Castor took to a microphone to announce she would be moving forward with her own citywide order — the same guidelines she proposed the previous day with the EPG.

Later that day Hillsborough County Administrator and EPG head Mike Merrill issued an Administrator Order basically saying any order issued citywide, not countywide, would be invalid.

Castor forged forward anyway, drawing a flurry of social media support.

“Shut it down,” “we support you 100%, “good to know the medical experts of Hillsborough County have decided the virus is only contagious from 9p to 5a” were among some of the comments on Castor’s Facebook Live announcement. In all more than 700 comments came in, most in support of a stay at home order.

Castor planned to implement the order at midnight on Thursday, but she never had to. What onlookers expected to be a feud, emerged instead as progress.

By Wednesday morning Merrill was already drafting an outline for both a stay at home directive and a curfew. He had it ready to go for the EPG’s Wednesday meeting, which hadn’t originally been scheduled.

The tone changed entirely. Gone were the comments about questioning the necessity of such an order. No one was saying the move was premature. No one pulled out the line that people were already social distancing, so why bother?

Instead the group landed in a protracted debate over semantics. Do we really need to have the word “curfew” in this.

Rewind to the original Monday discussion. Castor wanted nothing to do with a curfew. She warned reluctant EPG members that a curfew would be more restrictive, not less. The stay at home language allowed people to roam freely, so long as they were practicing social distancing guidelines. A curfew would give a hard mandate to stay home.

In the end, she got almost exactly what she asked for, and all she had to do was up the public pressure.

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]


7 comments

  • Ron

    March 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Just in time for the rest of Americ–including “lock down city on the Hudson”–to seriously question the need for such strangling measures. Tampa behind the times in the first place and wrong in the second, and all the assiduous apple-polishing from the flack gallery will not change that.

  • Ron

    March 27, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    And the photoshopping that went into the banner picture. Is that really GOD looking down benevolently on her city? Can this be the face of the FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT? Oh, say it is so!

  • Sylvia

    March 30, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Perhaps now is not the time to be promoting one’s accomplishments over another’s. We’re all in uncharted waters, working to find our way. Humility will likewise be an asset.

    • PJS

      March 30, 2020 at 10:00 pm

      Now is not the time to be patting yourself on the back, Jane Castor. Hillsborough County is more than just Tampa and people are still not abiding the rules. There were at least a dozen people on a pontoon boat in the bay on Saturday.

  • Joe Blow

    March 31, 2020 at 10:47 am

    I don’t see what the relevance in this article is to party affiliation. Why does our mainstream media always have to interject politics into EVERYTHING they write about. You guys do more harm than good to our society. Always trying to pit people against each other. Its disgusting.

    • PJS

      March 31, 2020 at 11:12 am

      Agree. This journalist seems to think Castor thought of this all herself. Since the entire state is in the same place, as well as the nation, her actions were appropriate but the same as many others. Nothing political about it but she obviously is making it so.

  • Kaffeguy

    March 31, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    The county has to look at data that has been there from China, Spain. Italy and it shows that to lower the curve we need to be shut down. One should be allowed to go grocery shopping and pharmacies. This is not a time to be wanting to buy clothing and whatnots. Stores are doing their parts by protecting their employees and special hours. Some stores even have curbside service without charging extra.
    Once the curve is lowered we still need to be inside and after weeks of decline then slowly let business begin as they have done in China. We the meaning the people that are home should have access to one or two masks. They do last a long time taking care of them. We all need to partake in this issue, be there emotionally over the phone via computers smart apps etc. Let’s all do our part as a community.

Comments are closed.


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