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Proposed Tampa panhandling ban faces yet another possible twist

TAMPA — Nothing about Tampa's panhandling problem has been simple or easy for the City Council, so why should today's vote on a partial ban be any different?

Here's the latest twist:

Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said two City Hall attorneys have called him to say that one or more council members might oppose his plan to cast the deciding vote on the ban by telephone. His "aye" vote would break a 3-3 tie, approving an ordinance the council has struggled with for months.

Miranda, who is at home recovering from surgery over the summer, shrugged off the lawyers' concerns.

"They're worried about something that I don't think will happen," he said Wednesday. "But if it happens, let it roll."

Miranda, who supports the proposed ban, said he expects to return to the council soon anyway, and then "Guess what."

"I'm going to bring it up, and we'll vote again," he said.

Under the proposed ban, most roadside solicitations would be prohibited six days a week. Newspaper vendors could work the medians every day, and panhandling and charity drives would be allowed Sundays. But the 10 most crash-prone intersections in the city would be off-limits to everyone seven days a week.

Florida attorney general's opinions say that participating in a meeting by telephone does not violate the Sunshine Law as long as there is a quorum of members physically present at the meeting.

Under city rules, the council chairman has the authority to decide matters of procedure unless four council members vote to override that decision.

But there's this possible wrinkle: Miranda plans to call in to vote at 10 a.m., when the proposal is scheduled to come up.

He does not, however, plan to be present at 9 a.m., when Vice Chairwoman Mary Mulhern gavels the meeting to order, as she has done in Miranda's absence for nearly three months.

Mulhern said she supports Miranda's plan to vote on the ordinance even though she has voted against it.

But she said the council only received Miranda's memo about his plans after its last meeting.

"Because this council has never addressed remote voting before, we can't just go ahead and do it without having a discussion," Mulhern said. "I want to do whatever I can to allow all members of council to vote. This has nothing to do with not wanting Charlie to vote. I will support his right to vote in this extraordinary circumstance."

The council does not have to put a procedure in place before Miranda can vote by phone.

"The only legal requirement is that there be a quorum that is physically present before someone can participate remotely," said City Council Attorney Martin Shelby, one of the attorneys who called Miranda.

Citing attorney-client privilege, neither Shelby nor City Attorney Jim Shimberg Jr. said they could discuss conversations with council members.

Four other council members contacted Wednesday said they, too, support Miranda's plan to vote. And one said he was rethinking his previous vote against the ban.

"I haven't reached a decision yet," council member Frank Reddick said, "but I plan to by tomorrow."

Proposed Tampa panhandling ban faces yet another possible twist 10/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 1:12am]

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