Florida Republican Assembly and county chapter of that organization pushed for the action
The Sarasota County commissioners voted 4-1 on Oct. 10 to approve one resolution supporting the right to medical freedom and a second one that makes the county a Bill of Rights Sanctuary.
During the Open to the Public comment period that morning, 18 speakers urged the board members to take the action. Many identified themselves as medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners. A number of them spoke of what they called “governmental tyranny,” which prevented them from prescribing medications they believed would have helped patients recover from COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic. Several cited ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, both of which peer-reviewed research has found to be ineffective against the coronavirus.
Several individuals also talked about their belief that the COVID vaccines cause cancer, while others related their decisions to relocate to Florida from states that imposed mask mandates and government and business shutdowns, to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus before the vaccines became available. They pointed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ steps to countermand federal guidance for controlling the spread of COVID-19 as their primary reason for becoming Floridians.
“I’m literally a political refuge from the West Coast of the United States,” Dr. Renata Moon of Venice told the commissioners.
Among those who addressed the board were members of the Sarasota Republican Assembly Club, including the president, Conni Brunni of Englewood.
She pointed out that Collier County already had adopted the resolutions. When a member of the Sarasota County organization read the medical freedom resolution at the chapter’s September meeting, Brunni added, “Folks were cheering, literally. … The energy in the room was so electric.”
Then Brunni explained, “The resolution was researched and crafted over six months, not cooked up in a basement last week.”
Brunni further indicated that if, as anticipated, enough counties approve the measures, the Florida Republican Assembly expects the Florida Legislature “to do the right thing as well, in further securing our rights.”
As she was wrapping up her remarks, Brunni said, “This is only a beginning. … The next step is implementing ordinances that have teeth. We look forward to working with you and the county attorney to complete this process.”
(The FloridaRepublicanAssembly.com website explains that it “is a Judeo-Christian Grassroots Organization committed to restoring the Republican Party to it’s [sic] founding principles,” adding, “Ronald Reagan called the Republican Assemblies the ‘Conscience of the Republican Party.’ ”
Commissioner Mark Smith was the only member of the county board to oppose the resolutions. He explained during the discussion that morning that he had reviewed, via the meeting video, the comments that Commissioner Michael Moran had made on Sept. 12, when Moran won board consensus to ask the Office of the County Attorney to review the measures that the Collier County Commission had approved.
Smith stressed that Moran indicated on Sept. 12 that, after the Office of the County Attorney had undertaken its review, the issue would come back to the commissioners for further discussion. Smith pointed out that he was blindsided by Moran’s moving forward on Oct. 10 with a motion to approve both resolutions.
The Sarasota News Leader also took another look at Moran’s Sept. 12 comments to his colleagues. Moran said that if none of the other commissioners objected, he would like their authorization for County Attorney Joshua Moye to review the Collier County documents “and come back to us with a form or fashion that we might have a discussion and possible moving forward with a motion at a later date on that.”
Chair Ron Cutsinger sought clarification that Moran was not seeking a vote on Sept. 12 in regard to Sarasota County measures modeled on those approved in Collier County. Cutsinger did indicate that Moran had provided all of the board members copies of the Collier County documents.
During the Oct. 10 discussion, Smith told his colleagues, “I feel a little blindsided, especially by all the folks that came here to talk [during the Open to the Public period].”
He also said he believed the commissioners should hear other points of view regarding the right to medical freedom before addressing that resolution, including comments from the leadership of Sarasota Memorial Hospital about the health care system’s experiences during the COVID-19 crisis and what its staff had learned as a result of its treatment protocols.
Moran responded that he would be happy to do whatever his colleagues wished that day, including making a motion that morning to approve both the resolutions.
Commissioner Neil Rainford stressed that both resolutions had been advertised as part of the Oct. 10 board packet, so anyone who wished to comment on them would have been able to attend the meeting in Venice, to share thoughts on the issues. Moreover, Rainford said, “A lot of people from our medical community … spoke today. … I didn’t hear a whole lot against [the medical freedom resolution].”
That prompted a statement from Commissioner Joe Neunder that he is a physician — “Dr. Joe,” he added with a laugh. He is a chiropractor with an office in Sarasota.
The medical freedom resolution includes these clauses:
- “WHEREAS, citizens have expressed that the constitutional rights of Sarasota County citizens were violated through discrimination based on medical and vaccine status; and
- “WHEREAS, citizens have expressed that medical professionals of Sarasota County were interfered with and prevented from speaking freely, treating patients with personalized care, and treating patients with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications; and
- “WHEREAS, global organizations such as the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum have no authority to subvert the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida; and
- “WHEREAS, there have been instances where the FDA did not require the pharmaceutical companies to conduct animal testing and clinical trials before allowing vaccination of the public; and
- “WHEREAS, citizens have expressed doubt about the efficacy of vaccinations and whether they present a danger to the citizens of Sarasota County …”
The Bill of Rights Sanctuary County resolution includes this language: “Sarasota County has the right to be free from the commanding hand of the federal government and has the right to seek judicial relief from the unlawful conduct of federal government officials in response to unconstitutional federal government measures.”
County Democratic Party condemns board action
In a statement released early in the morning of Oct. 11, Daniel Kuether, chair of the Democratic Party of Sarasota County, wrote that that organization condemned the action of the majority of the commissioners in approving the resolutions.
“This Twilight Zone gamesmanship is further evidence of the board’s extremist disregard for what concerns Sarasota workers, homeowners, renters, and public school teachers and students,” Kuether said in the statement.
“The resolution falsely claims that Sarasotans believed federal and state health agencies failed to be ‘transparent, forthright and consistent’ in protecting residents’ medical freedom,” the statement added.
“We would remind the board that more than one million Americans — more than in any of our wars — died of COVID, many of them because they did not have the opportunity to be vaccinated soon enough or chose not to be vaccinated,” Kuether added in the statement.
Referencing the section of the resolution that said Sarasota medical professionals “were interfered with and prevented from speaking freely, treating patients with personalized care … (and) with Food and Drug Administration approved medications,” Kuether continued, “This is ludicrous. All of us know that the overwhelming majority of medical professionals in Sarasota and our highly respected Sarasota Memorial Hospital urged citizens to get the COVID vaccine and wear masks because those vaccines saved lives and the masks prevented the spread of infection.”
He further pointed out, “Americans, at the urging and with the support of their federal and state governments, eradicated polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and other illnesses that could return if we excuse people from vaccinating. For the Republican Board of Commissioners to claim otherwise, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, is irresponsible and dangerous.”
All of the commissioners are Republicans.
Kuether urged every Sarasotan to write the commissioners and demand that they rescind the resolution immediately.
‘2 minutes to vent’
During the Oct. 10 discussion, Moran noted “the polite comments this morning,” adding, “It’s not lost on me. We get a lot of people that come here, yelling at us about certain stuff. … What it’s all about for me is folks being heard. … It’s less about a resolution or a legal document,” he continued, “and it’s more about making sure our constituents truly understand that we’re listening to them. … It’s true acknowledgement that the government works for the people, not the other way around.”
Across the United States, Moran said, people “are incredibly” frustrated with their local, state and federal officials, because they feel they are not being heard.
After Rainford seconded Moran’s motion to approve the resolutions, Moran said he wanted “just 2 minutes to vent.”
Anyone who watches the news for more than 30 minutes, Moran continued, sees reports on the “migrant crisis, men’s and women’s sports, smash-and-grab [crimes],” with the latter — he contended — getting insufficient law enforcement attention.
“These are serious things that people care about,” Moran added. Then he mentioned school board actions, pointing out, “You’ve got the government trying to step in in the shoes of parents …”
And he noted that anyone who had been to a grocery store recently could see that Narcan, a product used to revive people who have taken drug overdoses, is available for sale on store shelves.
“We have drifted away from the church and the community and being neighborly,” Moran said.
Referencing research he had undertaken, he continued, “The number of babies born to unwed mothers has doubled since 1980.”
Yet, Moran voiced frustration that “folks think the government is going to be the solution to some of these issues.”
As for the COVID pandemic: He stressed of county operations, “We never shut down. We didn’t bend to the immense pressure that was coming from upper government.” He and his fellow commissioners at the time — none of whom remain on the board — “were called murderers,” Moran pointed out. “My children were mentioned by name.”
Yet, the County Commission, he said, was taking the position that people were free to make their own decisions about what worked best for them.
Rainford added, “Government is local; it starts right here.”
Rainford then told his colleagues that the company he worked for during the height of the pandemic — Mullet’s Aluminum Products in Sarasota — employs more than 200 people. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “was coming to essentially shut our doors down or strap us with a bill that was unimaginable.”
Neunder talked about being a member of the Venice City Council at that time, when the majority of his colleagues on that board implemented a citywide mandate for the wearing of masks. “I never would vote for that.”
Neunder told Moran, “You’re to be applauded for your efforts during COVID.”
Smith said that he would like to hear from the county attorney about “what exactly this [medical] resolution does to solve the problem that we do have with the freedoms that we need … to get medical care.”
“Are these resolutions just lip service?” Smith asked, “or are we actually solving a problem?”
Moye did not respond to Smith’s question.
As for the Bill of Rights Sanctuary County resolution, Smith referenced a couple of its clauses, saying, “I didn’t realize we were having problems with Congress making laws to establish religion or soldiers being forced to quartered in their houses.”
He reminded the other commissioners that, when they take their oath of office, they pledge to uphold the Constitution.
At the conclusion of all of the other agenda items that day, Commissioner Michael Moran again brought up the resolutions, emphasizing that he wanted to ensure that the earlier vote formally approved them.
County Attorney Moye explained that Moran’s original motion was to approve Items 19 A and B on the agenda.
Those items read, “A. To consider a Resolution establishing Sarasota County as a Bill of Rights Sanctuary County; “B. To consider the Sarasota County Medical Freedom Resolution.”
Therefore, Moye recommended a new motion and vote.
Then, Moran made a motion to approve both resolutions, and Commissioner Neil Rainford seconded it. It passed 4-1.