FORT MYERS, Fla. — A heated debate ended with a narrow vote of 4 to 3 against a mask mandate for the City of Fort Myers.
On Thursday, council members met to discuss mandating the use of masks within city limits.
Ultimately city council voted in favor of drafting a resolution that will encourage businesses to mandate the use of masks for employees and customers.
That motion put forward by City Councilman Kevin Anderson.
"It's a good compromise to get people to wear the mask without forcing it," said Anderson.
Several Southwest Florida cities have implemented mask mandates — most recently, Punta Gorda.
During Thursday's meeting, city council heard numerous public comments, some in favor, others against requiring the use of masks — several speakers stating medical or psychological conditions as to why they can't wear masks.
Law enforcement officials also joined the conversation saying the Fort Myers Police Department does not have the resources to enforce a mask mandate.
But the discussion lasting roughly four hours had mixed emotions.
"We need to take a stand and put something in place to make sure the citizens of this community are safe," said City Councilwoman Teresa Watkins-Brown.
Council members Gail Antony, Fred Burson, and Mayor Randy Henderson voted in favor of the motion made by Councilman Anderson.
"We need to work very hard with the major businesses in the city to honor this resolution, and if we can accomplish that, then this resolution will have the same effect almost as mandating a mask," said Anderson.
But other council members worry Thursday's decision will not be enough.
"We're sad elected officials, sitting here not doing a thing," said Watkins-Brown.
City councilwoman Watkins-Brown, along with Councilmembers Johnny Streets and Terolyn Watson, were in favor of a mask mandate.
"We are in a national crisis, a world crisis, so some things we need to do, leaders need to move forward," said Streets.
Streets says he doesn't believe today's meeting accomplished what it was supposed to.
"We needed to have made a decision, that's what we were here, to make a decision not to find a way not to make a decision, and I think we found a way not to make a decision for the citizens of Fort Myers," said Streets.
But City councilman Anderson says he is optimistic that business will support the resolution.
"I truly believe businesses want to do the right thing," said Anderson.
The resolution draft will go back to the city council for ratification later this month.