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April Dawson, a waitress at Boulevard Bistro in Citrus Springs, serves meals to a Citrus County Fire Rescue crew in early April shortly after opening the restaurant's curbside pick-up service. 

Citrus County commissioners have a message to businesses itching to open in the COVID-19 era: It’s OK by us.

Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to a motion that Citrus County “does not restrict the opening of any business.”

The practical effect of that decision is unknown; commissioners said they do not have the authority to reopen a business that the state, not the county, ordered shut or restricted.

“Citrus County has never closed down anything,” Chairman Brian Coleman said. “If you’re allowed to be open based on the governor’s orders, then open up.”

Commissioner Scott Carnahan, sitting in as acting chairman while Coleman participated remotely, said he specifically wanted tattoo parlors and movie theaters to reopen.

Carnahan said Gov. Ron DeSantis’s phase one reopening does not restrict the reopening of movie theaters or tattoo parlors.

Indeed, none of DeSantis’s orders issued for reopening even mention theaters or tattoo parlors. The governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force does offer recommendations for phase one that include allowing theaters to open at 50% capacity, but DeSantis did not include that in his orders.

Coleman, who participates in regular teleconference meetings with Citrus County government leaders, acknowledged the direction from Tallahassee isn’t totally clear.

“Some of the orders are confusing,” he said.

Pinellas County announced last week it would allow theaters to reopen, noting that while DeSantis said in remarks he didn’t want to reopen movie theaters in phase one, the official order doesn’t state that.

Carnahan, citing the Pinellas County decision, said Citrus shouldn’t stand in the way of any business ready to open.

“We don’t want government putting you in poverty,” Carnahan said. “We need to let them know we want you out there making money and supporting yourself.”

The board discussed several COVID-19 issues Tuesday, including:

• Commissioners voted 4-1 to continue to extend the local state of emergency, though perhaps for the final time. Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith, who voted no, said COVID-19 case numbers continue to improve and the county has no need for an emergency declaration.

“There is no emergency,” he said.

The emergency declaration allows the county administrator to make purchases directly related to coronavirus response without board approval, and for the county to bypass normal bid procedures for emergency purchases. Also, counties and cities are eligible for federal reimbursement with a local state of emergency.

Commissioners Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr. said they supported Smith’s point.

“This is the last time, unless we see something different out there,” Carnahan said.

• Commissioners unanimously approved reopening ballfields, tennis courts and basketball courts on Friday without restrictions, other than no open concession stands or anyone allowed in dugouts.

The vote does not include a list of recommended safety procedures, such as wiping down bats and baseballs. Social distancing is encouraged, commissioners said.

“The parents and coaches are going to take care of most of these things,” Coleman said.

Fields are open for practice only. No games are yet scheduled.

• Commissioner Jeff Kinnard attended Tuesday’s board meeting in person for the first time since mid-April, while Coleman participated remotely. Coleman said he would be returning to the commission chambers for the board’s next meeting, June 8.

Attendance at board meetings has significantly fallen off, with every other row of chairs roped off and the county encouraging the public to watch either online or by TV, participating during comment periods by email or phone. Few have done that.

According to the governor’s task force, phase two reopening should include allowing in-person quorum for local governments “as long as social distancing guidelines can still be maintained,” while keeping remote access available for the public.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or