Tampa City Council passes "Event Zone" ordinance

However, the Council did agree to an amendment proposed by Councilmember Harry Cohen that will put portions of Harbour Island back into the Event Zone. The original proposal had all of Davis and Harbour Islands inside the zone; the new ordinance took them both out completely.

Other changes from the previous ordinance include eliminating the permit fee for gatherings of 50 or more people; increasing the protest time limit from 60 to 90 minutes; and allowing protests all day in city parks.

Councilmember Lisa Montelione supported the measure, but she asked city officials some of the day's toughest questions. She wondered what tactics might be used against protesters by outside law enforcement agencies supplementing the TPD and Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies, and she wanted to know how stringently such officers would be vetted.

Assistant Chief of Police John Bennett said that the TPD was receiving "internal resumes" from those other law enforcement agencies (a complete list of who those agencies will be has yet to be made public).

Montelione also asked what the policy would be in using tear gas to disperse protesters.

Bennett said the city already has a policy on force, and said all of the law enforcement agencies would work under one particular philosophy. He said those guidelines with the other agencies have yet to be established.

Bennett and City Attorney Jim Shimberg also agreed to publish a list of "do's and don'ts" for protesters and everybody else in Tampa who uses city parks, so they don't find themselves in violation of the law for the four days of the convention.

Councilman Mike Suarez said that denigrating the police and the protesters was equally unfair, and declared that Tampa was not New York City, Oakland or Minneapolis, cites where there have been major confrontations between police and protesters in recent years. Of course, Tampa has not had much history of civil unrest, period, for better or worse, so dealing with thousands of protesters for several days is something this city and its police force have never had to contend with.

Councilman Harry Cohen referenced the recent arrest of a gang that had allegedly planned to blow up a bridge in Cleveland; the same gang had supposedly discussed an attack at the RNC in Tampa.

"These are not fantasies, these are real concerns," he said, expressing his support for the idea of regulations during the convention.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Mike Pheneger from the ACLU called the new ordinance an "improved ordinance. It's not a good ordinance." Saying it contained significant flaws, he insisted that the city doesn't even need to create a separate ordinance, but simply a process to handle permitting for parades and protests.

The first public speaker, Laura D. Zahn, said that "Freedom of speech offers us the right to agree or disagree. It does not offer us the right to be disobedient or disrespectful." She also said there would be paid protesters during the convention, prompting some activists to joke later on that they wanted to get in on that action.

Jared Hamil with Fight Back Florida said the only violence he expects to take place during the convention is from the police. "Protesters don't need new laws. We have a right to protest within sight and sound of the convention." He also questioned whether police would actually arrest demonstrators if they were to go past the 90-minute limit now established under the latest Event Zone ordinance.

"Don’t be on the wrong side of change," he said. "Don’t be on the wrong side of history."

  • Occupy Tampa held a "retirement party" for the 1st Amendment.

The Tampa City Council today voted to approve the Buckhorn administration's revised rules for protesters at this summer's Republican National Convention.

The 5-2 vote on the ordinance came on a first reading. A second and final reading will take place in two weeks.

After the vote, members of Occupy Tampa held a retirement party for the First Amendment outside City Hall.

The ordinance covers regulations for the "Event Zone," the protest area formerly known as "Clean Zone." That moniker was rejected by critics who felt the label was negative, and an indication of how the administration viewed protesters.

That original Clean Zone ordinance was denounced not just by activists but also by a majority of the Council, who sent the city's legal staff back to the drawing board. The revised version still does not please everyone: Councilmembers Mary Mulhern and Yolie Capin voted no today.

Mulhern remains critical of the size of the Event Zone. City officials say the area encompasses downtown Tampa, but it actually expands beyond that. The perimeters of this zone were even larger in the first version, but city attorneys reduced the footprint to answer that criticism.

Mulhern said it was perhaps the only time she has ever agreed with Governor Rick Scott, who in rejecting Mayor Buckhorn's request to ban guns inside the Event Zone, wrote in his letter that the "safe zone" (as he wrote) included areas "across the river, and distant, from the convention center and Secret Service safe zone."

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