Tampa City Council deadlocks (again) on panhandling issue

The failure of the measure to pass after nearly a year of serious debate has to concern Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who faces an estimated 45,000 people visitors coming to the city in 11 months for the Republican National Convention.

Buckhorn told the Tampa Tribune's Christian Wade that he was disappointed by Thursday's non-decision.

"The vast majority of the community recognizes that it's a problem, and has been looking to the council to come up with solution," he said. "To bury your head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn't exist or that it isn't a public safety or health issue is foolish."

"It's an issue that has to be dealt with," he said. "The idea that we can continue on the current course is misguided."

Earlier in the meeting, the council as per usual took public comment, with both pro and anti-panhandling advocates speaking out.

John Dingler said that "We have a city and society that despises poor people," and alluding to the various machinations that the board has gone through in order to craft something that will be tough, fair and pass legal muster, derided that as "gymnastics to make it constitutional," adding that the city should be at the side of people that have "nobody else on their side."

Louis Chatlos described himself as a panhandler, and said people had a misguided belief that people like himself are making themselves wealthy by begging in the hot sun every day. He said he collected only $3 after standing outside for eight hours on Wednesday. "Without an ID you can't get a job. Without a residence you can't get an ID. Without a home you're so limited," he lamented.

But restaurant owner Bill Nelligan bashed the city, not so much for panhandling but for allowing homeless people to ruin his business. Nelligan owns Metro Restaurant and Lounge on North Franklin Street in the heart of downtown Tampa. He said there was both public urination and public masturbation by homeless people occurring right outside his establishment, and said the streets were not safe.

Further he said that had he realized conditions were going to be so bleak and inhospitable for his customers, he never would have moved into the location a year ago.

Two weeks ago acting council chair Mulhern was the only member of the board to vote against the hybrid panhandling ban. On Thursday she doubled down on that stance, questioning claims that there is a safety problem with those soliciting for money at city intersections.

The 7th vote on the board, Charlie Miranda, told the Times Rick Danielson that he won't be ready to return in two weeks time, but is trying to determine if he can vote via the telephone. He hinted that he could support the partial ban that the council deadlocked on on Thursday.

Yolie Capin had a message to Tampa City Attorney Jim Shimberg on Thursday: Don't mess with her.

Two weeks ago at the end of a workshop on the issue, the Tampa City Council took their first tentative steps into passing an ordinance banning panhandling, voting 5-1 on a measure that would ban such solicitations six days a week, allowing the practice to continue on Sundays,so hawkers could sell copies of the Tampa Tribune or St. Petersburg Times. They also would allow newspaper hawkers to continue to sell papers any day of the week, a provision that would allow copies of the African-American newspaper the Florida Sentinel-Bulletin to be sold on Tuesdays and Fridays, when it's published.

But Capin told Shimberg two weeks ago she wanted the ordinance tied together, and expressed fears that a court could strike down the provision allowing for the sale of the Sentinel-Bulletin during the week. But that wasn't included in the three separate motions Shimberg provided to the council to vote on Thursday, so she changed her vote from two weeks ago, as did Frank Reddick. The measure deadlocked at 3-3, with Mary Mulhern joining the dissent. Mike Suarez, Lisa Montelione and Harry Cohen supported the measure.

Because of the tie, the measure will come back to the council in two weeks time. But with the 7th member of council, Charlie Miranda, still expected to be on the sidelines recovering from an illness, the scenario for the city looks like something out of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit.

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