TAMPA — In a dramatic turn Thursday, a thin and pale Charlie Miranda rushed to his first Tampa City Council meeting in three months to ensure the passage of a six-day-a-week ban on street begging.
Turns out he could have stayed home. The panhandling ban passed easily, with just one nay vote.
The council chairman, who is recovering from major surgery, had planned to phone in his vote to break a 3-3 tie from the council's Sept. 22 meeting.
But Vice Chairwoman Mary Mulhern opened the meeting by saying research she had done herself showed that council rules don't allow Miranda to vote by phone.
"This is nothing personal," she said. "I miss him. I have the utmost respect for him."
In his family room, Miranda, 70, sat in pajamas and a bathrobe, following the meeting on television. As the discussion went on, he turned to his legislative aide, Mary Bryan.
"I'm getting dressed," he told her. "Tell them I'm coming."
About an hour later, with Miranda back in the chairman's seat, the ban passed 6-1, with Mulhern voting no, after council members Yvonne Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick changed their votes from the tie.
Miranda said he hopes to return to the council in two or three weeks, which means he might be present when the ban comes up for a final vote Oct. 20. If approved then and signed by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, it would go into effect Nov. 1.
The mayor welcomed the council's action, saying, "I look forward to a day when our medians are panhandler-free."
As proposed, Tampa's new rules would prohibit most roadside solicitations six days a week. Newspaper sales would be allowed every day, and panhandling and charity drives would be allowed on Sundays. But the 10 most crash-prone intersections in the city would be off-limits to everyone seven days a week.
Tampa's proposal is more lenient than St. Petersburg's ordinance. There, the city has outlawed roadside solicitations on both major arterials and less busy collector roads. In Pasco County, officials passed a similar ban, but included a Sunday exception for newspaper sales.
Tampa's vote came after several false starts and a year of impassioned debate, including several key discussions that did not include Miranda.
Miranda went into Tampa General Hospital on July 13 for the repair of a hernia. Complications led to a second operation on his lung. His harder-than-expected recovery included nearly seven weeks in the hospital and more than 20 days in intensive care.
"There's a period of that time I don't remember," said Miranda, who attended the meeting with a tube draining fluid from his left side. "I asked the doctor, 'How come I don't remember?' He said, 'Because you're lucky.' "
On Wednesday, Mulhern told a St. Petersburg Times reporter she had no problem with Miranda voting by phone. But on Thursday, she said that after the reporter mentioned Robert's Rules of Order, she recalled that a new edition was coming out, and she had heard that it might address electronic voting.
So Mulhern went out and bought the latest edition of the book. The City Council's rules cite Robert's Rules as the authority on parliamentary procedure for the council.
Although previous editions were silent on electronic voting, the new edition says it is allowed as long as there are established rules in place on how such votes are to be conducted.
The council has no such rules. Going ahead with a vote would abdicate the council's responsibility, Mulhern said.
Mulhern had voted against the proposed ban and had filled in for Miranda as chair in his absence, but she said she only wanted to make sure that any vote taken was not open to a legal challenge because the council had ignored its own rules.
"It was stupid politically, because it looks like I'm being mean to a sick old man," she said after the vote.
But she added that doing her homework, even on unpopular things, is "what I do because no one else will do it."