IS KEY WEST’S NEW YEAR CURFEW LEGAL?

IAs a unilateral move, the Mayor of Key West has decided that the party will end at 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and the following weekend. For many business owners and voters in town, however, two looming (and potentially costly) questions are now boiling over the surface. First, is Mayor Teri Johnston’s decision to impose a New Year’s Eve curfew without a majority vote from the entire city commission legal? And if not, why has no Commissioner called a special meeting on the matter?

As of now, not long after sunset on December 31st, non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants, will have to close at 10:00 PM. In addition, no one is allowed to be on the streets and sidewalks after 10.30 p.m. unless they are on their way to or from work in a vital company, the directive says.

The announcement of a curfew at 10 p.m. for the entire New Year’s weekend came in the morning after a three-hour discussion by the city commission that ended without a consensus. At least three commissioners – Billy Wardlow, Sam Kaufman and Clayton Lopez – questioned the value and enforceability of a 10 p.m. curfew when an estimated 50,000 people must be anywhere on the island.

Lawyers and entrepreneurs question the power of the mayor to issue such guidelines unilaterally without a vote by the entire city commission.

“The Key West charter and code list the powers of the mayor and the commission,” Key West attorney Bart Smith told Keys Weekly on Wednesday, December 9th, enabling the mayor to respond in an emergency to act unilaterally. Only the city commission has this authority. Other places like Miami-Dade have regulations that allow the mayor to act in emergencies and impose a curfew. Key West doesn’t have that. So the question is, where does the Mayor of Key West get the authority to issue emergency policies like the New Year’s curfew? “

Keys Weekly emailed the same question to Attorney Shawn Smith late Wednesday, December 9th, but received an automatic response that Smith would be “out of the office until Monday, December 14th.”

Smith replied after presstime with the words: “Florida law allows the mayor to enact the local state of emergency, and the commission took action many years ago to delineate the powers under the law and establish an order in which those powers are exercised. “Keys Weekly requested the specific language of this previous commission promotion.

Keys Weekly emailed each commissioner on December 9th if they would like to call a special meeting where the entire commission could vote on a possible curfew.

Commissioners Kaufman and Jimmy Weekley answered the question at the last minute before presstime.

“We are following the advice of our legal advisor that the city has the option to issue an emergency ordinance or that the mayor can issue an emergency policy,” replied Kaufman. “As the majority of my colleagues supported the mayor’s emergency policy, I do not realize that calling a special meeting would lead to a different result. I prefer such guidelines to be voted on at a city meeting with a proposal for a regulation that is properly observed in advance. Too often recently the city has passed guidelines or ordinances without the proposals being published as an action point prior to a city meeting. “

Weekley said he supported the mayor’s position that she would issue a guideline after the discussion at the meeting.

Legal challenges?

Friends Patio restaurant owner Danny Hughes and his lawyers drew the city’s attention in a letter dated Dec. 9, challenging the mayor’s authority to impose the curfew and stressing their willingness to call on the city for financial reasons To sue any damage related to the curfew. Hughes also offered to help other companies file similar claims for damages.

“Two friends will take our attorney’s advice and not rely on anyone to pledge to support unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious policies, let alone be bullied,” said Hughes’ letter to city commissioners. “If two friends are damaged by the city’s actions and a court finds that the city’s actions were invalid and / or unlawful, two friends will seek damages from the city. Two friends also support every other business. be it restaurant, hotel, guest house, night club, entertainment venue, water sports, etc. to seek damages from the city for acts deemed invalid and / or unlawful. “

Hughes’ email to city officials also includes a letter from the Orlando-based law firm BakerHostler in which Bart Smith’s statements regarding the mayor’s authority or failure to issue such a policy based on the powers set out in the city’s charter, be repeated. In his email, Hughes compares the mayor’s instruction to “martial law” without the approval of the full commission, arguing that it is illegal for residents of New Town to leave their home for a burger after 10:10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

“Since the commission does not agree to meet on this important issue, they are giving up their duties to the mayor,” said Hughes. “That is clearly not the purpose or the language of city law. Voters in each district deserve and should expect their commissioner to represent them on this matter. “

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Crowd control questions

An estimated 50,000 people will be somewhere in Key West on New Year’s Eve. The annual clamshell, drag queen, and pirate wench drops have all been canceled, but hotel bookings for the vacation weekend, which is usually one of the busiest of the year, are near full.

Several questions plagued the city commission’s discussion, which ended without an agreement.

How many people will stand in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on New Years Eve if nothing is seen during the countdown to midnight? Will a curfew be effective in protecting a crowd this size? What happens at 9 p.m. when people find out that alcohol sales are going to end in an hour? How are hotels and pensions influenced by guests who are forced to stay in hotels after 10 p.m.?

All these and other questions were asked and discussed during the city commission’s discussion on December 3rd about the crowd control on New Year’s Eve.

Officials as well as the community were divided about what action can or should be taken.

Kaufman applauded the city’s Health & Business Advisory Committee, calling on the commission to endorse their recommendations for a 1am curfew. increased eating outdoors; Dropping cancellations; Increased mask marks and advice to elderly and vulnerable residents to stay home that night.

Wardlow and Lopez pointed out that the crowd is already booked and is coming.

“I think they’re coming,” said Wardlow. “We’ll send them to the hotels from Duval Street at 10 p.m.? You will go somewhere. I say we keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. “

Entrepreneurs and workers vehemently disagreed with a 10 p.m. curfew.

“If there isn’t an attraction on Duval Street to watch, people will spread out. You won’t be standing shoulder to shoulder without seeing something, ”emphasized event promoter Louie C. Rock.

“A 10pm curfew puts employees in the precarious position of kicking people out at 10pm. This is a serious mistake,” said restaurant owner Bill Lay.

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