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'Clean Zone' out, 'Event Zone' in for protest ground rules during GOP convention

TAMPA — "Clean Zone" is out. "Event Zone" is in.

And it's much smaller.

Criticized as too sweeping and intrusive, Tampa's proposed ground rules for Republican National Convention protests have gotten a makeover.

The city still would create a come-one, come-all protest area where demonstrators could be seen and heard at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

It still would establish an official parade route.

And it still would ban many weapons in a larger zone centered on downtown.

But much else has changed, starting with the name "Clean Zone," which protesters took as an insult.

"That was unintended, so we tried to come up with a more generic name that would not offend anyone," City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. said Tuesday.

In the past, officials used Clean Zone to describe the area covered by temporary rules for Super Bowls, so they simply carried the name over to this event as well.

City officials also propose to shrink the zone. It no longer would cover Harbour Island, Davis Islands, anything north of Interstate 275 or Interstate 4, or anything west of N Boulevard. The University of Tampa still would be in the zone, which is fine with administrators at UT.

Other key changes include:

• Groups of 50 or more could apply for an all-day permit for parks inside the Event Zone. Originally, the proposed ordinance setting the rules would have put a 60-minute time limit on those assemblies.

• Similarly, the time limit on parades on the official route would be extended from 60 to 90 minutes.

• Officials made more clear that a proposed citywide ban on many weapons or things that could be used as weapons would apply only to public property, not to homes or businesses. And such items would be prohibited when they were carried with the intent to hurt someone or do damage.

Because state law forbids local ordinances on gun control, the city's proposal still does not ban concealed firearms inside the Event Zone, something Mayor Bob Buckhorn plans to ask Gov. Rick Scott to address.

Reaction to the changes was mixed.

After criticizing the first draft, City Council member Frank Reddick approved of the name change, shrinking the Event Zone and giving protesters more time to march and rally.

"I think they have made some major adjustments that should please a lot of people," he said.

But council member Lisa Montelione was surprised, and not in a good way.

"It still needs work," she said. "They've made changes, but they're not as extensive as I thought they would be. I thought we would be looking at a completely different document."

Montelione said she wondered whether the Event Zone ought to be even smaller, whether some definitions should be made more clear, and whether the city really should ban protesters from carrying gas masks.

City officials have said that if police needed to clear an area by using tear gas, allowing demonstrators to wear gas masks could force them to use more extreme measures.

"I know the reasoning behind it," Montelione said. "But in crowds like that, the use of any kind of chemical is going to affect innocent bystanders, and those innocent bystanders won't have any way to protect themselves. There's going to be a lot of people who are caught in that area who aren't part of the group that is causing the problem."

A protest leader said he understands the city doesn't want to offend anyone, but the name of the zone doesn't matter.

"It's the content of the ordinance," said Jared Hamil, an organizer with Fight Back Florida, which is leading an effort to hold a 5,000-person march the first day of the convention. "The issue is that protesters don't need new laws. Anything that hinders protest is clear repression from the city and the mayor's office."

Another protest leader took issue with the city's plan to create an official protest area inside the Event Zone — its location has not been set — especially if it "penned" demonstrators inside a fence.

"We're not animals," said Corey Uhl, an organizer with the University of South Florida chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. "We're going to be mothers and fathers, babies in strollers, retirees — everyone that's affected by the Republican agenda."

Those marchers will be in shorts and T-shirts because of the August heat, Uhl said. But he suggested that police, some organized in a rapid-response field force, will be the ones dressed for a riot, and that could set the tone for what happens.

"When you're a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail," he said.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which met with Shimberg and Tampa police for two hours last week, said the latest version still raises concerns that it will take up with the City Council on May 3.

"While the city staff has made several changes to the proposed ordinance that are more sensitive to the First Amendment, we still believe the ordinance is unnecessary and that it still infringes on civil liberties," John Dingfelder, the ACLU's senior staff attorney for mid-Florida, said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times.

Police have said up to 15,000 protesters could converge on Tampa for the convention, scheduled from Aug. 27-30. So far, three groups have applied for city permits to protest.

The Service Employees International Union wants to organize a 1,000-person rally on Aug. 26, the day before the convention opens, at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The West Central Florida Federation of Labor seeks to hold a daily 500-person parade from Aug. 26 to Aug. 30.

Fight Back Florida, which consists of union members and young people, wants to hold its march Aug. 27. Its Coalition to March on the RNC has drawn support from organized labor, the anti-war movement, plus student, immigrant, welfare rights and gender equality activists from as far away as Texas, Minnesota and Utah.

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

On the web

To see the latest draft of the city's temporary convention ordinance, visit tampagov.net/pao and click on "RNC Revised Ordinance." The ordinance goes to the City Council for the first of two votes May 3.

'Clean Zone' out, 'Event Zone' in for protest ground rules during GOP convention 04/24/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:23pm]
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