Tampa City Council goes on offense on why they're not prepared to place an ordinance banning panhandling on March 1 ballot

Speaking as strongly as anybody against the measure was Councilman Charlie Miranda, who said "this ordinance doesn't cover anything but 'get rid of 'em." He added "what is this city doing to house these people somewhere else?"  The long time councilman said such a law would be unfair to the hundreds of people who sell local newspapers, particularly on Sundays, to make a modest income.  "This is not about me, this is about your mind and your heart as an individual," he said.  "There's been no solution brought here other than 'let's get rid of them.'"


City Attorney Chip Fletcher said because of federal and state case law currently, Tampa's only option is to have an outright ban on everybody and every group who panhandles, or no law at all (meaning special permits couldn't be granted to say, the Shriners for soliciting for funds).   However Fletcher said the city is looking at possibly limiting such panhandling to certain street corners or only at certain times, based on public safety concerns.


Councilwoman Mary Mulhern was equally as strong as Miranda in criticizing those who have criticized the council for it's perceived "inaction." Referring to Spencer Kass's comment that the council was going to put another ordinance on the March ballot regarding tax incentives for local businesses, Mulhern said she had heard nothing from Mayor Iorio's administration regarding panhandling.


"I don't see anything on our agenda to put this on the ballot.  So to kind of scapegoat the City Council for not doing this - if the administration would like us to do that, I haven't heard that.  Mr. (Chip) Fletcher is telling us 'well it would be legally supportable.' But we haven't gotten that recommendation from either the Tampa Police Department, from our Housing Department,  from the Chief of Staff from our Legal Department.  So, we haven't been advised to do that...so I hope we don't make hasty sorts of decisions like that when they're not supported by data...we haven't heard any data about the claims that this is dangerous.."


Even council member Joe Caetano, who has previously proposed that the council vote to put the measure on the ballot, said the board should do something proactive, and not "subcontract" the issue out to the public to vote on it.  He said it was important to do something for the homeless, specifically to find housing for them.


Council chairman Thomas Scott went over with city attorney Fletcher over what the council has been doing on the issue over the past year, saying, "so to say that council hasn't done anything is absolutely false, would you agree to that?" Fletcher said yes.


"It's easy to be heartless," Scott continued, seconding Charlie Miranda's comments.  "You don't ever want a heartless government.  You want a government that want to find solutions and answers to the problems. "


With every member of the board save for Gwen Miller on the ballot in March, the council is certainly showing courage.  If they were going to act upon the latest public opinion poll, they would go the other way, since that Bay News 9/St. Pete Times poll found 72% support St. Petersburg's law banning such panhandling on medians, and 65% support it being exported to other cities, such as Tampa.

The issues of citizens in Tampa panhandling on street medians has dominated local media in recent months, and shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

Public opinion polls show the public wants such an ordinance in effect, duplicating what the city of St. Petersburg did last summer, but Tampa City Council members, almost to a person, have been resolute in discussing why a simple ordinance banning such activities isn't a sufficient response to the homeless issue at this time.

After neighborhood activist Spencer Kass against castigated the board for failing to put such a measure on the March 1 ballot (after he was unsuccessful in a nearly impossible effort to amass 18,000 signatures in the waning weeks of last month), several members of the board spoke out passionately about why they felt putting the measure on the ballot would be an injustice.  That came after Kass said he wanted Tampa citizens to now reach out to members of the city's legislative delegation, saying, "hopefully our legislative delegation will be a little more sympathetic to the small businesses, and the individuals of this city who are suffering under the danger that this panhandling is causing."

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