Tampa officials want more time to work on ground rules for GOP convention protests

TAMPA — City officials want more time to work on the proposed ground rules for protests outside the Republican National Convention.

The City Council was scheduled to consider revisions to the proposed "Clean Zone" ordinance on April 19.

On Friday, however, Assistant City Attorney Mauricio Rodriguez requested that the council's first vote be moved to May 3.

In a memo to council members, Rodriguez said officials need the time to address concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union, the council and the public.

"We're just trying to make sure we have everyone accommodated," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "We don't want them to be able to say we didn't listen."

Buckhorn said he didn't know what changes the city would propose. City attorneys and police met earlier this week with a lawyer for the ACLU, and attorneys are trying to talk to every council member.

Once that feedback is in, Buckhorn said officials will go through them and figure out "what we can live with, what we can't and what makes sense."

"Certainly on the weapons side, it's non-negotiable," he said. "Boundaries, times — I'll talk about them. I'm flexible."

With up to 15,000 protesters expected to come for the Aug. 27-30 convention, the city wants to create a designated protest area close enough to the Tampa Bay Times Forum for delegates to see and hear the demonstrators.

That protest area would be inside a much larger Clean Zone, which would cover downtown, Ybor City, the Channel District, Davis Islands, Harbour Island and parts of Hyde Park, Tampa Heights and West Tampa.

The city would establish permit procedures for parades and demonstrations in the Clean Zone. As originally proposed, it also would set a 60-minute time limit on parades and rallies.

The city also would ban virtually anything that could be used as a weapon in the Clean Zone, with one key exception.

It turns out Tampa does not have the authority to stop gun owners with concealed weapons permits from bringing their guns into the protest areas.

Otherwise, the city's list of banned items is extensive. Officials say it has to be, because anarchists have converted a wide variety of everyday objects into weapons at past conventions.

Citywide, for example, there would be a ban on carrying pieces of wood, hard tubes or anything else that could be used as a club, as well as water guns, super soakers, air guns, paintball guns, explosives, switchblades, hatchets, slingshots, brass knuckles, Mace, chains, crowbars, hammers, shovels, or any container containing urine, blood, fecal matter or other bodily fluid.

Inside the Clean Zone, the ban would be expanded to prohibit ropes, straps, tape or string longer than 6 inches with a tensile strength of more than 30 pounds, plus glass containers, ceramic vessels, light bulbs, padlocks and bicycle locks, portable shields and gas masks.

Inside the protest area, the ban would be expanded still further to prohibit aerosol cans, camping gear, coolers and ice chests, fireworks, lasers, sticks, poles, ladders, umbrellas with metal tips and non-plastic bottles, cans and thermoses.

When the City Council first took up the ordinance on April 5, critics and council members agreed it still needed a lot of work.

Chief among the complaints were that the 60-minute time limit was unrealistic, the rules would suppress free speech, the Clean Zone was too big and too many items would be banned as potential weapons.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Next RNC expenditure: Security fences

The City Council will be asked on April 19 to approve spending $290,000 on temporary fencing for the Republican National Convention. The fences, made by Premier Global Production Co. of Nashville, were used at both national political conventions four years ago. A police memo says the barrier "will be critical in the protection of city and county buildings," though it doesn't say which buildings would be fenced, and also will protect officers assigned to guard those buildings. Funds for the purchase would come from Tampa's $50 million federal grant for convention security. The company's quote to the city said the amount of fencing to be supplied will be determined after a site visit. It also gives a price of $29 a foot. At that rate, $290,000 would cover up to 10,000 feet, or almost two miles of fence.

Tampa officials want more time to work on ground rules for GOP convention protests 04/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 7:33pm]

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