Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Republican National Convention to disrupt civic life in downtown Tampa

Local officials are concerned about Twiggs Street in downtown Tampa, where the elevated crosswalk between two court buildings could be a target for vandals during the convention.


Local officials are concerned about Twiggs Street in downtown Tampa, where the elevated crosswalk between two court buildings could be a target for vandals during the convention.

TAMPA — Protesters and jurors don't mix.

So don't expect to see judges gaveling trials to order at the Hillsborough County courthouse the week of Aug. 27-30, when the Republican National Convention comes to town.

The courthouse will be open, officials say, but some other downtown government offices won't be. At the same time, fences might go up around the courthouse and County Center, or selected streets could be closed to keep rock-throwing vandals away.

Taken together, such measures, now under consideration by local officials, provide a glimpse of the impact that the convention promises to have on civic life in downtown Tampa.

"We have to have some security, because there are groups out there who want to disrupt the convention," Hillsborough County fire Chief Ron Rogers said. "One of the things they like to do is break glass. . . . It's sad, but that is their goal."

Many of the plans for the courthouse, as well as for city and county buildings, are either not set or not being discussed publicly. Much will depend on where the Secret Service sets the security perimeter, and that hasn't been announced.

Up to 15,000 demonstrators are expected for the convention. Many could come for an Aug. 27 march organized by more than two dozen protest groups, including organized labor, student radicals and anti-war protesters.

But while police say only a tiny number is likely to try to damage buildings or disrupt the event, even a peaceful convention promises unprecedented traffic jams.

So officials are trying to minimize the impacts.

Consider the jurors.

On a typical week, the courts call 350 to 400 citizens downtown for jury duty.

But during the convention, "just getting in and out of downtown is going to be difficult," Hillsborough Circuit Chief Judge Manuel Menendez Jr. said. "We've decided not to put jurors through that."

So judges aren't scheduling trials that week and are trying to minimize the number of hearings.

But what if a defendant's right to a speedy trial would be violated without holding a trial?

"We can go over to Plant City and try it there," Menendez said. "We've got a courthouse there. We've got holding cells there."

That same week, the courts are looking to move first appearance hearings for just-arrested inmates out of downtown, maybe to makeshift courtroom space at the jail east of town.

Other hearings — for traffic court, domestic violence injunctions, juvenile detention hearings and shelter hearings for children taken away from their parents — also could be moved to other government facilities out of downtown.

Still, there is no plan to close the courthouse itself.

"We're not going to deny someone the right to access the courts, to file a paper or a new motion," Hillsborough court administrator Michael L. Bridenback said. "If they want to pay a fine, we want them to be able to pay a fine."

For protesters arrested outside the convention, court officials may have judges on call, Menendez said. Once booked, those inmates could go directly before an on-call judge.

The difficulty of conducting business as usual also has led the Hillsborough tax collector and property appraiser to plan to close downtown operations for the convention. Staff will be shifted to suburban branches or other centers. Some may work from home via Citrix or on iPads.

"We will still operate, but not at the downtown location," Tax Collector Doug Belden said.

Whether the County Center itself remains open is another question. Belden said he would recommend closing it because the sheer number of people would make it "virtually impossible to conduct business in the County Center."

So far, there's no decision on that, Rogers said. One factor: Joe Chillura Courthouse Square, across the street, could be the focus of protests.

Local officials have discussed putting a fence around either the state courthouse, the County Center or both. They also could close some streets, such as Twiggs Street, where an elevated walkway between two courthouse buildings could be a tempting target for vandals.

"Twiggs is one of the ones they're concerned about because it's got that overhead walkway," Menendez said.

County officials say they are making plans so no services are disrupted and employees and the public are safe.

"And there will be plenty of notice ahead of time about how the services that folks are used to getting will be provided," Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said.

Likewise, the city has made no decisions about closing buildings.

"A lot will be determined by what the parade routes are and what the proximity of the protest areas are to City Hall," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

Or putting up fences.

"I'm sure fencing is going to be one of the options for both private sector and public sector employers," Buckhorn said.

This, however, is clear: Officials are talking about putting up fences or other security measures only at government buildings.

Police have met with downtown property managers to discuss ways to safeguard their buildings.

But when it comes to paying for those measures, officials say businesses will be on their own.

Republican National Convention to disrupt civic life in downtown Tampa 01/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 11:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.