St. Pete City Council approves temporary ordinance for the Republican convention

08/10/12 Lisa Kauffman
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St. Pete officials say they need to have safety and security measures in place while delegates and dignitaries are in town for the pre-convention party. But some people are concerned about the ordinance infringing upon residents’ constitutional rights. Councilman Bill Dudley supported the ordinance, saying it is necessary to take all precautions.

“We can nit pick and do all that stuff, but I’m telling you, after something serious happens is not the time to say ‘oh, we should’ve done something else’. I mean even with all this, there’s still a potential there.”

The ordinance prohibits anyone from possessing containers unless it is plastic with less than twenty ounces of a beverage. Aerosol cans, light bulbs, glass containers, umbrellas with metal tips and several other items will also be banned within the established Event Zone spanning much of downtown. Council member Wengay Newton opposed the ordinance because it may not be in the best interest of everyone’s safety.

“I’m more worried, not just when they talk about public safety, of protecting the public or the elected officials, I’m worried about the police officers, and also about the people doing their first amendment right. If someone sets them off and they start just waling on people then what? All this is going to do is prevent us from getting sued, is that it?”

Mayor Bill Foster supports the ordinance and hopes it will make visitors feel safe, comfortable, and welcome.

“We want to be a rest bed, a place where you can put your feet in the sand, enjoy a cocktail, and we want to be that welcoming community for peaceful protestors as well as those participating in the event.”

Before the city council meeting, protestors held a press conference on the steps of City Hall. St. Pete RNC Coalition organizer Mark Skogman echoed concerns raised by residents at previous meetings that the ordinance could criminalize many daily activities.

“This ordinance means that on that day, any picnic in one of the downtown or waterside parks or beaches would likely be illegal, anyone buying groceries from the downtown Publix would almost certainly be committing a crime.”

Skogman thinks the ordinance is useless.

“We believe that many of its features have absolutely no value in protecting residents, protesters, or RNC attendees. The ordinance does make many aspects of ordinary living for residents impossible. The ordinance massively infringes on our civil liberties and essentially shuts down some of out local businesses.”

Most of the restrictions approved in the Event Zone ordinance apply to downtown St. Pete, but some – including blocking sidewalks – apply to the entire city. Activists are planning demonstrations in St. Petersburg during the kick-off event for media and delegates on August 26th, the day before the Republican convention begins in Tampa.

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