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County's Mike Merrill contradicts Mayor Buckhorn, says there's no 'curfew'

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, foreground, and Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, at rear, spoke as one Thursday about preparations for Hurricane Irma. They disagreed Sunday about a curfew. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, foreground, and Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, at rear, spoke as one Thursday about preparations for Hurricane Irma. They disagreed Sunday about a curfew. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]

TAMPA — Is Tampa under a curfew starting at 6 p.m. Sunday or not?

Yes, Mayor Bob Buckhorn declared Sunday morning.

No, countered Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill at a 4 p.m. news briefing, not for Hillsborough County or any of its three cities — Tampa, Temple Terrace or Plant City.

Merrill said only the county administrator has the authority to set a curfew under a state of emergency.

"I understand the mayor's desire to keep his city safe. But, it creates conflicts," Merrill said.

Regardless of curfew status, county officials ask anyone in the region to get inside immediately for their own safety.

Asked to comment on Merrill's statement, Buckhorn said Sunday evening he is on firm legal ground in declaring the curfew for the city: "The curfew's going to remain in place in the city of Tampa."

Merrill has told reporters repeatedly Saturday and Sunday the county had no curfew plans unless conditions changed.

"I have not called for a mandatory curfew. We urge residents to get to a safe place, to shelter in place," Merrill said at the 4 p.m. news conference.

Any curfew would be his decision, he said, and he would seek an opinion beforehand from Sheriff Chad Chronister.

Asked if the announced Tampa curfew was no longer in place, Merrill said, "There never was."

Merrill said there was "too much at stake" to let the conflicting announcements become an issue for him.

"I'm not going to let it be a problem."

Said Buckhorn, "He said he doesn't think we have the authority; I said, we do."

"Our obligation is to protect the people who live in the city. Their obligation is to do whatever they need to do for the folks in the county. It really shouldn't be an issue. I don't know why there's drama there."

City Attorney Sal Territo said Tampa has a local ordinance based on state law authorizing the mayor to declare a state of emergency and, as part of that, impose a curfew if necessary. He knows of nothing in the county's charter that pre-empts the city from imposing the curfew.

"We've had riots here in past and curfews have been called," Territo said. The state law, he said, requires "that you state the reasons for the curfew. You have to basically lay out the facts why we're calling the curfew. We did all that."

Tampa has acted before Hillsborough on a variety of Irma-related initiatives this week, including ordering an evacuation of Zone A.

Talking to County Attorney Chip Fletcher, Territo said he learned that decision put the county in a bind. Territo called Merrill and apologized. He said the city should have coordinated that evacuation decision with the county and would do so on similar matters going forward. He said the call ended well.

The subject of the curfew did not come up in his call with Merrill, Territo said.

Buckhorn contacted Merrill later Sunday and as a result of their conversation, the mayor said, he had Police Chief Brian Dugan call Sheriff Chronister to make sure there's no confusion between the police department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Dugan later told Buckhorn that Chronister didn't register any objections. The mayor also said the city was clear in saying that its curfew is just within its city limits.

"It shouldn't be a problem," Buckhorn said. "What's appropriate for the county may differ from what's appropriate for the city. We're more compact. We've got areas that are probably going to be significantly more impacted, and we want to make sure our folks are protected."

Contact Langston Taylor at Follow @LangstonTaylor.

County's Mike Merrill contradicts Mayor Buckhorn, says there's no 'curfew' 09/10/17 [Last modified: Sunday, September 10, 2017 6:40pm]
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