Thursday, May 28, 2020
That’s the question some Palm Beach County commissioners are asking, claiming their powers have been usurped by County Mayor Dave Kerner and a group of bureaucrats who have been making key decisions about the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic outside of the public’s view.
“It’s frustrating when you’re elected to do a job, and unfortunately because of the circumstances, you feel that you’re just a spectator,” Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth said Monday.
Commissioner Hal Valeche said he, too, has been unfairly muzzled. If he had his way, restaurants and retail shops in the county would have been allowed to partially reopen Monday, just as they did in 64 of the state’s 67 counties.
However, because Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to lump Palm Beach County in with Broward and Miami-Dade counties, restrictions that were lifted in other parts of the state remained in place in all three South Florida counties.
Valache, the lone Republican on the commission, said he disagreed with DeSantis’ decision to link the county’s fate to that of its southern neighbors, which have been hard hit by the deadly coronavirus.
But, Valeche said, Kerner and others signed off on the Republican governor’s edict and he was given no opportunity to weigh in.
“There’s a lot going on that we should have been discussing,” Valeche said. “This is a waste of the commission’s time for things not to be discussed.”
Other commissioners said that during emergencies — whether it be a weekslong hurricane or a monthslong pandemic — decision-making has to be given to a panel that can act quickly.
The Executive Policy Group, which is holding the reins, is composed of nine senior county leaders, including Kerner, Administrator Verdenia Baker, Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso and officials in law enforcement and public safety.
“The reason why we hand the authority to the county administrator and trust the mayor to make those decisions ... is because most of these decisions have to be made more urgently,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.
Commissioner Mack Bernard agreed. “There are a lot of decisions that must be made on a daily basis, and we can’t call a (commission) meeting every single second,” he said.
However, there are signs that others are becoming frustrated as well. Saying they are “fed up” with needless restrictions, a loosely knit band of citizens announced they are holding an all-day rally outside the county governmental center Tuesday when the commission holds its first meeting in three weeks.
“We realize that two months ago, there were many unknowns, but the data and science is in now and it no longer justifies the shutdown,” said rally organizer Ann Margo Cannon, who in 2019 protested a bill that would have ended religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations.
Still, despite Cannon’s claims, the deadly coronavirus shows no signs of going away.
While the county’s death toll stood at 199 on Monday, with no new fatalities reported, 20 more people statewide succumbed to the virus, raising the state’s death count to 1,423, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Further, the number of confirmed cases in the county increased to 3,311, a 5.8 percent increase since Sunday, state health officials said. The additional 181 cases were more than have been reported in the last three days combined.