PLANT CITY — After a discussion that pitted free speech against family values, Plant City commissioners narrowly approved an ordinance this week to allow tattoo parlors and body piercing salons.
The 3-2 vote Monday lifted a longtime municipal ban on those establishments.
Some consideration over the change came from city officials eager to pre-empt any legal challenges. In 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that a California city's ban on the businesses violated the Constitution. That interpretation of the First Amendment included tattooing among free speech rights.
"I don't want to see us having to defend ourselves in a court of law," said City Commissioner Michael Sparkman.
The approved ordinance permits state-regulated tattoo and body piercing establishments in certain commercial districts, except the mixed-use developments in downtown and midtown. Passing the ordinance before any conflicts arose granted officials the opportunity to carve out those exclusions, said city attorney Ken Buchman.
But critics of the ordinance didn't think the faraway court decision should affect Plant City's actions.
"Why should we roll over and accept politically correct change without defending our community values?" Vice Mayor Bill Dodson asked, reading from a prepared statement. His constituents, he said, count on him to prioritize the city's family-friendly foundation.
Several residents echoed that sentiment during the public hearing before the commissioners' vote. They said they feared that the businesses would alter the local culture.
"This is Plant City," resident Cindy Cline said. "Do we have to cave in to that?"
Dodson called for commissioners to wait to vote on the ordinance and requested another public hearing. He wanted the city staff to conduct additional research on legalities and where businesses would be allowed. Though seconded by Mayor Dan Raulerson, the motion failed.
Dodson and Raulerson cast the two dissenting votes against the ordinance.
In response to concerns about tattoo and piercing studios creating a "bad" part of town, Plant City police Chief Bill McDaniel consulted other area law enforcement agencies. Vice divisions and crime analysts reported no notable issues with those types of businesses.
One agency said problems mostly came in the form of civil complaints: customers disputing prices or bemoaning misspelled tattoos.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.