Saturday, November 25, 2017
Editorials

As convention nears, balance security and free speech

RECOMMENDED READING


This summer's Republican National Convention will put Tampa in the spotlight like never before. And that attention brings an added responsibility on the city to protect the civil liberties of protesters and the public even amid unprecedented security. The city needs to be thoughtful and accommodating as it looks to change local laws that govern when and how demonstrators and other groups may gather.

Many security arrangements will be dictated by the U.S. Secret Service, including the broader restrictions in and around the main activity areas at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center. But the city still has its own area of authority and an obligation to make its views known when security concerns begin to infringe on the public's right to assemble and express protected speech.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration has spent several months looking at ways to relax the permitting code to make it easier for large groups to gather without breaking the law. The current code is aimed primarily at large commercial events such as charity road races and the like. But the city's requirements for using parks and the public right of way are far too cumbersome and expensive for most political demonstrations. These events typically form at short notice, lack a deep-pockets sponsor and have no set attendance. Tampa police tolerated the Occupy group that set up in Curtis Hixon Park. But the convention shows the need for new permitting criteria, so protesters and police — thousands of whom will be from out of town — will know what is lawful and what is not.

The existing codes make some exceptions for public protests, but those guarantees are few and too much discretion is left to top city officials. That is a recipe for abuse and for costly legal battles. The city should at the least focus on loosening the most onerous rules, such as those requiring long lead times for protesters to apply for permits. Others, such as those requiring multimillion-dollar insurance guarantees and hefty up-front costs for security, cleanup and other incidentals, need to be modified to reflect the fluid nature of accommodating the public at what will already be a high-security event. The goal should be to balance free speech and security. That will require common sense in drafting the new permitting codes.

The city, to its credit, has tried to get ahead of any problems. City officials have met with civil rights leaders and downtown businesses and residents to ease concerns, and they have acknowledged that the city codes — irrespective of the GOP convention — are out of date. The American Civil Liberties Union will hold a public forum on the topic Tuesday at the downtown Tampa campus of Stetson University's College of Law. Tampa city attorney Jim Shimberg is among the panelists. This session should mark another positive step as the administration prepares to bring new permitting codes to the City Council.

Comments

Editorial: Strengthening the ties that bind in Seminole Heights following 4 killings

During this weekend of giving thanks, let’s recognize the Seminole Heights community for remaining united and committed to their neighborhood as residents cope with the stress and fear following a series of murders. Their response as police continue ...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Editorial: St. Petersburg should revisit approach to historic preservation

St. Petersburg is headed down a slippery path in the name of historic preservation. After a group of 10 property owners in the Old Northeast neighborhood won approval earlier this year to become a one-block historic district, two more groups of neigh...
Published: 11/22/17
Updated: 11/24/17

Editorial: Senate should not repeal health insurance mandate to pay for tax cuts

There are all sorts of problems with the massive tax cut legislation the Senate is expected to vote on this week. Wealthy individuals and corporations benefit more than the poor and the middle class; by 2027, about half of all taxpayers would see a t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from Irma

Editorial: Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from Irma

Florida agriculture took a beating in September from Hurricane Irma, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses across the citrus, sugar, cattle and dairy industries. Yet despite a personal plea from Gov. Rick Scott, the Trump administrat...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint

Editorial: Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan says he’s standing on principle in his effort to collect $7,800 spent defending him against ethics charges that eventually were dismissed.If so, it’s the wrong principle. But Hagan’s strident position rings ...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/24/17

Another voice: Wall isn’t a lifesaver, it’s a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction — and even what type of wall — remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nation’s budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more — s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nation’s highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldn’t back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17