St. Pete puts off Event Zone decision for Republican convention kick off party

08/03/12 Janelle Irwin
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Officials in St. Petersburg have delayed a decision on an event ordinance for the Republican National Convention kick off party later this month. The ordinance would increase police presence, restrict access to certain areas and limit what items people could carry within an established zone. St. Pete Police Major Melanie Bevan is spear-heading the agency’s security planning.

“If one citizen gets harm, if anybody gets harmed by vandalism, by anything, that’s a little bit of a failure on our part to keep our city safe and our community safe. That’s really our one and only goal with this. Well, maybe our secondary goal – First Amendment rights and keep our community safe and that’s really all we’re looking for with this.”

But approving the temporary ordinance that will be similar to the Event Zone ordinance already passed in Tampa won’t happen until next week at the earliest. That’s because some members of St. Pete City Council thought there were still too many holes. Steve Kornell voted to defer a decision until August 9th or 16th because he was worried downtown residents would find themselves in a world of inconvenience when doing ordinary daily activities like grocery shopping or coming home from work. He went back and forth with assistant city attorney, Mike Finn about his concerns.

“Is there any situation in this – and I’ve read it, but I’m not sure how it will apply in this situation – like where anybody would have to be frisked and checked and everything before they go into their home – like say Fusion right next to the dome.”

“I don’t see – unless they were suspected of doing something unlawful or illegal, I don’t see how that would occur at all.”

“So, how will the people who live in proximity to the dome, how will they get into their apartments?”

“My understanding is, all of those – the parking plan and the security plan provide access for everybody to their property.”

“And, unfettered access? Like, they’re not checked, they’re not…?”

“I am not aware that any of them are being checked. I mean, if they were, it would only be on the day of the event during the event, but I don’t think that’s occurring and certainly not a frisk-type check.”

And some community leaders and activists also want language in the ordinance that makes certain demonstrators have the right to gather on sidewalks as long as they aren’t obstructing it. Mike Pheneger, president of the ACLU of Florida said the ordinance does seem to protect free speech rights of individual protesters.

“We think you’ve been less protective, however, of the First Amendment rights of groups who wish to speak collectively. And that’s, I think, a problem that makes your ordinance not ready for the prime time and not ready for passage at the present time.”

The ordinance has been tweaked over the last few weeks to address some concerns. Many of the more rigorous restrictions will now only apply to August 26th which is the day of the kick-off party instead of spanning the entire week of the convention. The city’s legal staff had urged council members to pass the ordinance yesterday, but said as long as they pass it before the event, the ordinance can be implemented.

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