Lee County leaders not publicly discussing how to stop COVID-19 spread

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
People wearing face masks in downtown Fort Myers (Credit: WINK News)

In the middle of a crisis, should your county leaders be taking a break? Lee County’s elected officials are doing just that.

WINK News has been pressing county commissioners and City of Fort Myers leaders on whether it’s time to call an emergency meeting over the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Leaders of Cape Coral are debating Monday on whether to mandates mask, and a lot of people have something to say about how the city responds to the coronavirus crisis. Judging by the emails and phone calls WINK News gets, people in the City of Fort Myers and in Lee County want to have that debate, too.

Lee County Commission Chairman Brian Hamman has another idea: educate people on the importance of wearing masks.

“Lee County has been trying to lead by example; we wear masks in public, we have put up signs in our facilities to ask people to wear them,” Hamman said.

Reporter Morgan Rynor: But education obviously, just by the numbers, it’s not working as of right now. I mean the numbers, and the percentages…

“That’s your opinion,” Hamman responded.

Rynor: It’s not my opinion, it’s the numbers. What the numbers show. Not only are our cases going up, but hospitalizations, the positivity rate, it’s all of it…

Rynor asked what it would take for Hamman to hold a public meeting.

“You know in four out of the 16 counties that did have the conversation voted no,” he said.

Rynor: That’s at least a conversation.

“Forty-seven have not held a meeting on it, so we’re in the group of I guess the majority that have not had a meeting on it,” the chairman said.

Rynor: But you said at the beginning of this conversation that you lead by example. And I don’t think you can say both at the same time. You lead by example, but also you know “there are other counties that haven’t done it so why should we?”

In the end, Hamman said he will not call an emergency meeting to debate whether to mandate masks, close or restrict beaches, or talk about any other possible response.

What about County Manager Roger Desjarlais? He didn’t return Rynor’s calls, so she went to his office.

Rynor: We still haven’t heard back. This is the third day in a row that we’ve reached out to the county manager. So we’re just wondering if he’s here and we can talk to him.

“Nope, he’s not going to do an interview with you,” said spokesperson Betsy Clayton.

It was the same at Fort Myers City Hall when Rynor asked to speak with City Manager Saeed Kazemi, who was “in a meeting” for the entire day. His assistant told Rynor to send another email, but there was no reply.

City Councilman Johnny Streets said he sent Kazemi an email, asking if he’s polling the mayor and council for an emergency meeting.

Council members Teresa Watkins-Brown and Kevin Anderson also said they reached out to Kazemi.

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