Broward mayor says he’s handcuffed, urges cities to toughen laws, fight coronavirus

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said Wednesday that the county does not have the authority that Miami-Dade does to force local bars and restaurants and other businesses to cut hours or close their doors.

Instead, he urged municipalities within the county to enact laws that would help curb the quick-spreading coronavirus by limiting hours and crowd sizes, or shutting down businesses completely, much like leaders in Miami-Dade did the previous day.

“The governor has issued his executive order,” said Holness. “The county charter doesn’t allow us to close” local businesses. “Cities can do it. I urge our cities to look to see how they can take actions. I urge them to at least follow what the governor’s order is. The cities can do more.”

The mayor spoke publicly Wednesday from Broward’s Emergency Operations Center during a virtual press conference.

On Tuesday, as the virus continued to spread at an alarming rate, Gov. Ron DeSantis limited gatherings on beaches to no more than 10 people. A few days earlier he had used his executive powers to limit gatherings of any sort to 250 people. Some counties and cities still had the authority to make those rules tougher. And Tuesday, just after the governor’s most recent order, Miami Beach and Miami-Dade leaders did just that.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered the shutdown of restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other businesses and said restaurants could remain open only for takeout or delivery. Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales’ order gave police the right to arrest people if they refuse to disperse from a crowd of 10 or more.

Fort Lauderdale had already closed its dine-in restaurants for the next 30 days, but Mayor Dean Trantalis said pick-up, drive-through and delivery could continue.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis on Tuesday announced that all restaurants would be closed to dine-in customers for the next 30 days, but that drive-through, delivery and take-out services could continue.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis on Tuesday announced that all restaurants would be closed to dine-in customers for the next 30 days, but that drive-through, delivery and take-out services could continue.

Hallandale Beach went a little further, shutting down all of its beaches, bars and restaurants, except for carry-out and delivery. And more restrictions may very well be on the way.

“The priority is to protect the welfare and the safety of our constituents,” City Manager Greg Chavarria said. “We are realizing that this situation is fluid. This situation requires being agile. We cannot wait for another entity. We must take action.”

At Stout Bar and Grill in Oakland Park, the typical dinner rush has slowed to a standstill.

At 7:30 p.m., while the City Commission was considering further restrictions on life in the city due to coronavirus, restaurant manager Tim O’Connell said he was in “wait-and-see mode.”

“It’s just like a hurricane,” he said. “You don’t know which way it’s gonna hit.”

The restaurant has a capacity of about 200 people. By 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, it served just three dinner groups.

Layoffs are coming, O’Connell said. And the livelihood of his staff depends on the “good conscience” of politicians.

“Starbucks and McDonalds can take the hit, but mom and pop stores like ourselves, we can’t take that,” he said.

Holness spoke on a myriad of issues Tuesday. He also discussed the importance of keeping Port Everglades open and about the local bus and library system.

The mayor said it was imperative to keep Port Everglades up and running because the jet fuel used at international airports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach County flows through the post. He also said it acts as the connecting point for most of the fuel used in South Florida gas stations.

“If we were to close the port, probably within three to five days, you would have no fuel to drive here,” the mayor said in response to a question posed by a reporter.

But with the cruise industry canceling most cruises, Holness said he expects the last commercial ship to dock at Port Everglades on Friday and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will clear all the passengers before they disembark.

County libraries will close at the end of business Thursday, though no one will be fined for overdue books or other items not returned on time. The mayor also said buses would continue to run on schedule.

Miami Herald staff writer Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.