‘We cut off people’s lights’: Florida mayor blasted for coronavirus response

A Florida councillor accused his city mayor of running a “banana republic” after shutting off some residents’ utilities amid the coronavirus pandemic, in an epic tirade that has been watched millions of times online.

Commissioner Omari Hardy delivered the fiery speech at the tail end of a city council meeting in Lake Worth Beach, Fla., last Thursday, after other lawmakers refused his request to hold an earlier emergency meeting to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We cut off people’s utilities this week, and made them pay what could have been their last cheque to us to turn their lights on in a global health pandemic!” he shouted at other lawmakers in the meeting, which was captured on the city’s YouTube channel.

Hardy had wanted to give people a break on their delinquent bills during a state-wide lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease. However, city leaders refused to hold an emergency meeting to discuss Hardy’s idea earlier last week, the Palm Beach Post reports.

City manager Michael Borenstein admitted in the meeting to turning off power for 50 customers last Tuesday, just before the city put a moratorium on utility shut-offs.

“Can we do better? There’s always things that pop up that we can do better on, and I call the question,” Vice Mayor Andy Amaroso says in the meeting video.

Hardy then interjects, saying that he hasn’t been given a chance to speak about the issue. He also denounces both Amoroso and the mayor, Pam Triolo, for trying to silence him with rules they “came up with” at the beginning of the meeting.

“This gentleman has turned off people’s lights in the middle of a global health pandemic,” Hardy says of Borenstein, before turning his criticism on Mayor Triolo.

“This is a banana republic that you’re turning this place into, with your so-called leadership,” Hardy says to Triolo.

Triolo previously gave Borenstein emergency powers to run the city, even though she had not called a state of emergency, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Hardy also accused Triolo of dragging her feet on many preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, such as closing their beach or banning public gatherings.

“We should have been talking about this last week,” he says. “But you didn’t care about that and you didn’t want to meet, but every other year you go around and beg people for their votes.”

Triolo responded by calling a recess and walking away in the middle of Hardy’s speech. She also told him he was grandstanding for the cameras and being “disrespectful.”

“Disrespectful is what you’ve done to the working people in this city!” Hardy said. “You failed to act.”

Video of the encounter has been watched more than 11 million times online, where most users have sided with Hardy. A petition calling for Triolo to resign has racked up more than 19,000 signatures.

Hardy says he’s been overwhelmed and humbled by the reaction to his speech, although he doesn’t want to be the focus of the attention.

“It was not about me,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “It was about the people in our city who are struggling, whose futures are uncertain.”

He added that it was nice to see that he is not alone in his frustration.

“As a Black man, I knew the optics of my exchange with the Mayor could take this in a direction I didn’t want it to go,” he said. “But despite that … the PEOPLE saw my exchange for the mayor for what it was.

“I was heated, yes. I was loud, yes. But I was trying to get across an important point: That elected officials work for the PEOPLE.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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