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Latest panhandling ban stalls in tie vote at Tampa City Council

TAMPA — The latest attempt to clear Tampa's streets of panhandlers stalled Thursday, its future uncertain.

City Council members had asked for an ordinance banning most roadside solicitation six days a week. Newspaper vendors could work the medians every day, and panhandling and charity drives would be allowed Sundays.

It was a compromise. But after nearly a year of debate and false starts, residents told council members they wanted to see some action — any action — on the issue.

"We would like you to do something," said Jerry Frankhouser, president of Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods, or THAN for short. "We don't care what it is. Just get the people off the streets."

Instead, council members deadlocked in a 3-3 tie.

Council members Harry Cohen, Lisa Montelione and Mike Suarez voted to move ahead.

Vice Chairwoman Mary Mulhern and council members Yvonne Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick voted no.

As she has done in past proposals, Mulhern voted against the measure because she said the council has received only anecdotal evidence about panhandling posing a danger.

"I never saw any substantial, competent, compelling evidence that this is a major safety problem," she said. "I don't think it's there."

Capin and Reddick voted two weeks ago to bring the ban forward for a vote. But they changed direction Thursday after Capin raised concerns about the way the proposed rules had been separated into three different ordinances — one repealing the city's current ordinance, one allowing roadside solicitations on Sundays and a third allowing roadside newspaper sales seven days a week.

Capin said she wanted the rules in one ordinance so that everything would stand or fall together in the event of a legal challenge.

Capin was particularly concerned that the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a twice-weekly newspaper that focuses on Tampa's black community, could be hurt if a court struck down the ordinance allowing weekday newspaper sales, but the one allowing Sunday sales were allowed to stand.

That's because the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times focus their roadside sales efforts on Sundays, while the Sentinel Bulletin, which publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, sends its vendors out during the week.

With the tie, the council's rules mandate that the proposal automatically be carried forward to the next regularly scheduled council meeting on Oct. 6.

Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who is recovering from three serious surgeries this summer, was absent. He said Thursday night that he does not expect to return for the next meeting.

But Miranda said he asked his legislative aide to get him a copy of the ordinance and plans to ask for a legal opinion on whether he can vote by telephone.

"It's gone on too long, and it's got to come to some kind of resolution," he said.

Without saying exactly how he would vote, Miranda noted that he has wanted a partial ban, and likes the way the current proposal details what's allowed and when.

"I think it's fair, I think it's workable, and guess what? If it doesn't work, we can write another one," he said.

While the proposed ordinance would allow solicitation, including panhandling, on Sundays, Justin Frazier and Louis Chatlos told council members the restrictions would take away their only means of support.

"I am a panhandler not by choice, but by necessity," said Chatlos, 48, who has been working Tampa's streets for about eight months. "I stood out there for eight hours yesterday and made just $3."

Frazier, 36, who said he was laid off from a job installing marble and tile 11 months ago, said he gets by selling water and Gatorade at Kennedy and West Shore boulevards.

He said he makes $600 to $700 a week, which supports him, his wife and their 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

"If you take my income away, we will be homeless within a week," he said. "Nobody's hiring."

Latest panhandling ban stalls in tie vote at Tampa City Council 09/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:17pm]
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