Besieged by complaints (including their own), Tampa City Council delays vote on "Clean Zone" for the RNC

She said not only the language but the tenor in the ordinance needed to be amended, adding that the notion that the city will be inundated with anarchists in late August is a false premise.


And Mulhern called the composition of the Clean Zone "completely unworkable," a sentiment shared by virtually every other council member who publicly spoke during Thursday's meeting.


In the year he's served on the council representing District 5, Frank Reddick has often been the only voice other than Mulhern to publicly question Mayor Buckhorn. He did so on Thursday as well, blasting the administration for giving him only an hour's heads-up before the proposed ordinance was released to the press last week.


He took particular umbrage at the fact that the north end of the clean zone goes up to Columbus Drive, located north of I-4 in the Ybor City area. He said nobody in town for the convention would dare go north of I-4 unless they were lost.


"And when they find out where they at, they're going to be looking for the police to get them back in the right direction, " he said, generating laughter inside the council's chambers. "There's no I-Hop, there's no clubs, and they're going to run into something they don't want to see," referring to the urban, working-class neighborhood of East Tampa that is part of his district.


Items banned in the clean zone include air pistols, water pistols, masks, plastic and metal pipe and string longer than six inches. There are concerns that people living in their neighborhoods far away from the intensity of the Tampa Bay Times Forum could be susceptible to arrests or harassment, particularly in "the hood," as Tampa resident Joe Robinson said at Tuesday night's ACLU forum.


Reddick said he's been bombarded with calls, texts and emails since the proposed ordinance was announced last week, the most since the panhandling issue raged at City Hall. He said unless the boundaries were changed in the clean zone, "I won't support it today, I won't support it tomorrow, I won't support it next week."


Councilwoman Lisa Montelione picked out specific provisions in the ordinance that she said were problematic, such as the 60-minute limit on protests, which appears to be a universal concern. She said the protests should be allowed to last at least 90 minutes, with flexibility attached to even that time limit.


One reason city officials have given for limiting protests to 60 minutes has been their concern about police officers wearing riot gear in the 90-plus-degree temperatures in Tampa in late August. But Assistant Police Chief Mark Hamlin said today that officers would only be putting on such gear if necessary, and instead would likely be in short sleeves, with officers on bikes wearing even "softer" clothing, such as polo shirts.


Montelione also read aloud a letter from one resident who said she applauded Mayor Buckhorn's proposal (a stark contrast to the sentiments expressed inside City Hall).


Councilman Harry Cohen took exception to some of the language used by those public speakers who criticized the ordinance, with one speaker even making references to Nazi Germany. (Before the meeting one protester, named Dennis Seagall, said he was Jewish and invoked the phrase "Never again" ? not in reference to the Holocaust, but to allowing "a country to take away the freedom and rights of its citizens in order to protect the country," which is what he said the rules being imposed on protesters amounted to.)


Cohen said such language wasn't reasonable, saying the debate was a "robust dialogue between concerned people." He also said that the First Amendment is not absolute.


On Wednesday, the National Lawyers Guild sent city council members a letter opposing the 18-page ordinance, referring to Tampa lawmakers as "ill-informed." Cohen did not appreciate that slam, saying, "To call us uninformed truthfully means they're not paying attention to the debate."


In recent days, as it's become known that Tampa can (and is) making all sorts of restrictions inside the clean zone, the city is being lampooned nationally for one restriction that they can't make ? that is, banning concealed weapons, since Florida law prohibits local municipalities from crafting gun regulations. Like City Attorney Jim Shimberg said at the ACLU forum, for those who don't like that, they need to take it up with lawmakers in Tallahassee, and not to those at City Hall.


Before the meeting began, a handful of activists led by St. Petersburg homeless advocate Bruce Wright blasted the proposed ordinance as well. Wright got it wrong when he said he believed the Council would rubber stamp the proposed Clean Zone regulations without objections.



He said he attended the 2008 RNC in St. Paul and says as a demonstrator he was allowed to protest "within several hundred feet of the convention center." He called for the entire proposal to be erased and started over, with input from the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU and local protest groups.


A woman named Maria Agosto spoke later at the news conference, wearing a large hat to block the sun, sunglasses, and an umbrella, which she said is considered illegal under the current clean zone rules. She said the hat might be as well, since it could be used to deflect something coming in her direction. Agosto was referring to a section of the ordinance that bans possessing any length of metal that does not exceed three-quarter inch in its thickest dimension, does not exceed one-eighth in thickness, and is not filled with any material, liquid, gas or solid.


City Attorney Shimberg promised Council Chair Charlie Miranda that he would meet individually with each member of the council over the course of the next couple of weeks to discuss their concerns.


The issue comes back before Council on Thursday, April 19, at 9:30 a.m.

  • A tense scene at the 2008 RNC in St. Paul

With criticism rising over Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed rules for protesters at the Republican National Convention, the Tampa City Council today opted to delay voting on the ordinance for two weeks.

That vote followed statements from a number of citizens before the board Thursday morning, all expressing their anger about the ordinance, which includes specific rules within a five-mile region of the city the mayor is calling the Clean Zone, as well as rules limiting where and how long citizens can hold protests.

But the visitors weren't the only ones objecting. Council members Mary Mulhern, Frank Reddick, Lisa Montelione and Harry Cohen all expressed their own complaints as well, making the delayed vote non-controversial.

It was no surprise that Mulhern, the most progressive member of the board, had issues with the administration's ordinance. But this time — unlike earlier instances — she had company in issuing her objections.

Mulhern began her dissent by saying "You could drive a tank through the constitutional holes" in the Clean Zone ordinance.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.