You probably couldn't get a better glimpse into a city's character, or its heart, than at this week's Tampa City Council meeting.
It was a busy day, and no surprise there, since Tampa is a big-ish city with real-city attributes and troubles, from skyscrapers to homeless people. When people say "Tampa," it's not like they have to add "Florida," so people know they mean that town halfway up the state and on the left. Even those guys hoping to be the next Republican president are invoking its name lately, since their party lands here in a big way come August.
Tampa, as it turns out, is also a city willing to shed prim and outdated notions in favor of fairness when it comes to the rights of unmarried people living together — including gay and straight couples.
It's also a town capable of getting into a tizzy over backyard chickens, but more on them in a minute.
A major issue of interest Thursday was a proposed registry to ensure unmarried partners get to see to each other in case of an emergency. Of course, this is a no-brainer for married people. But a registry would give an unmarried significant other the right to be called in an emergency, to be allowed to visit in the hospital and to make health care decisions when a partner can't.
A big deal? Nearly every citizen who came downtown, stood up and spoke out on a specific agenda item was there for this one. Even a couple of people who came to opine on the chicken issue threw in a few good words for the registry, too.
In fact, miracle of miracles, not a single soul who spoke was against it. In hundreds of emails and phone calls to council members beforehand, not one threatened divine retribution and a mass smiting of the city if we gave people who aren't married those particular rights over their private lives. (You had to love the guy who dryly noted that his own longtime partnership had lasted "far, far longer than any Kardashian can say.")
And miracle of miracles — twice in a day — council members voted 5-0 to push forward to establish a registry. This, in a city within a county that once got itself in a major twist over a gay literature display in a library — a county that still bans official support of gay pride. No wonder the council got a standing ovation when it joined a handful of other Florida cities and counties on this no-brainer.
Sure, there was other Tampa business to be done, matters concerning the upcoming Republican National Convention, Guavaween and such.
But my second-favorite moment of the day had to be the chickens, with some citizens hoping to loosen the rules to allow feathered "pets" that contribute fertilizer and fresh eggs within the city limits.
You can already count City Council member Frank Reddick as less than enamored and not afraid to put himself firmly in the anti-chicken camp early on, since he called a pet chicken "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of."
Reddick told a dark tale of a rogue Tampa chicken of his acquaintance that for months "strolled down the street like he just owned it" and then kicked up your flower bed and ate your neighbor's collard greens to boot. The only joy he got from that bird, he said, was that he "lost 5 pounds running behind that chicken."
Expect a showdown over city chickens at an upcoming workshop.
That, too, is Tampa.
So it turns out actual city business like zoning and municipal chickens is officially more controversial than meddling in our neighbors' personal lives. And what a town.