Satellite Beach City Manager: County Rescinding Beach Closure ‘Catastrophic’ To Public Confidence

Cocoa Beach

SATELLITE BEACH, Florida - Satellite Beach County Manager Courtney Barker sent an email to the Brevard County Commissioners stating that the County’s decision to rescind the beach closures “was absolutely catastrophic to the public’s confidence in our ability to handle this emergency event.”

Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker’s letter to Brevard County Commissioners:

Dear Commissioners:

Our County has always functioned extremely well with working together through emergencies. During these events, we all mistakes. Whether it be accidently messaging something wrong, misunderstanding a directive, or simply miscommunicating by missing a call, etc. What we have NOT done in the past, has worked against each other, which I fear is happening now.

I hope you all understand and take my concerns seriously. Each of our emergency events, at least in the last 7 years that I have been a City Manager, have disproportionally affected the beaches; whether because of our location due to barrier island (hurricanes) or to having our County’s largest tourist attraction, the beaches, when we are trying to keep crowds at a minimum (pandemic). I also hope you all understand that, as a City Manager, I fully understand and appreciate your positions as elected officials and very much appreciate your service to our community. So please do not take these comments personally, as I know you are all trying to do your best.

I do not believe that any County officials should be announcing anything to the press without coordination with the EOC. This event had this happen with announcements being made through one press company and the biggest problem was announcing parking lot closures prior to our press releases being released to the public. Premature releases to the public simply set off phone calls, social media speculations, and contacts to City Council members and City Managers that are not aware of what the policy group decided. Cities have elected officials too, and they should not learn of Policy Group decisions via social media, residents’ phone calls, or the press.

Although this pandemic is a slow moving event, the reason the Policy Group has specific personnel and not more elected officials is due to areas of expertise. We are not responding and making decisions based on what we people want. We are making them out of the interest of public health, safety and welfare, which can sometimes be very unpopular. As such, we have a wide range of people with various types of expertise and representation from a wide range of stakeholders. There are people representing many more agencies than just the County.

The beach closure issue is about keeping the desire of people from out of the area from driving here, in addition to keeping the crowds down. Visitors, when they come to the beach, also usually decide to go to our grocery stores, since ours are less crowded than the stores in Orlando and Kissimmee, and our residents are concerned. Since we have closed the parking lots down, it has helped quite a bit. But on the weekends, we have people parking along residential streets and in commercial parking lots, which become a battle for Publix and Walmart. We are trying to keep people from moving around the community, especially people from outside our community. Commissioner Lober’s described our issues and why we are asking for the closures very well.

There have been times that I or my City Councilmembers have disagreed with the Policy Group. However, we go along in the interest of consistency and partnership. Consistency is key when helping the public through an emergency. The decision to rescind the Order to close the beaches created the only major problem we had this weekend, which was people not understanding what was happening. It is very important that we all work together on behalf of the public, even when we may personally disagree with the overall decision. I am also struggling to understand why comments were made at the County Commission meeting that these decisions were “knee jerk” as though we made these too quickly and did not consider the consequences. I can assure you all that these decisions were made by having a lot of discussion between the Cities and the EOC. When comments are made otherwise, it sends out very bad messages to our community, which we certainly do not need during this times such as these. Additionally, the decision to have another policy group meeting and actually rescind this decision was absolutely catastrophic to the public’s confidence in our ability to handle this emergency event.

The idea that the County would use their powers to stop the enforcement of a Policy Group decision during an emergency, is quite frankly, deeply concerning to me to say the least. The closure of the beaches literally reduced the recreational opportunities for county residents at the beaches for 5 hours a day for 3 days during a pandemic. What happens if we need makeshift hospitals? What if we need to amend mutual aid agreements to share personnel for areas harder hit than others? Are you going to “stop enforcement” of those decisions because you do not like them?

I strongly suggest to County to continue the policy group meetings. There are other agencies that we all need to coordinate and agree with through this event. I also do not think this is legal to not have these meetings under the current structure we have for emergency response.

Unfortunately, it appears that there are people and companies that are using these emergencies to raise their own profiles and infuse their own political beliefs into these decisions. This really needs to be controlled and this is one of the reasons we have the current EOC structure. Personal profiles have no business in emergency management. Period.

I implore you to let cooler heads prevail and restart the Policy Group meetings so we can get back to work. We will have bigger decisions to deal with in the next couple of weeks.

For those that feel that this is “no big deal” or that the responses are too drastic: that is what Italy said 7 weeks ago. We need to listen to our health professionals, and to the local government professionals that are trying our best to keep people home. The faster we do this, the faster we “flatten the curve” and get people back to work.

Thank you!