Give Clearwater City Council member George Cretekos credit. He refused to drop his monthslong effort to change a ridiculous city ordinance that makes it illegal to toss balls and Frisbees in city parks or on the beach. This week, he finally persuaded his council colleagues to consider a repeal or substantial amendment of the law.
Last fall Cretekos stumbled across the ordinance in Section 22.49 of the city code book and couldn't believe what he read. It states, "No person or persons shall engage in rough or potentially dangerous activity such as football, baseball, softball, horseshoes, tennis, volleyball, badminton, or any other organized activity involving thrown or otherwise propelled objects such as balls, stones, arrows, javelins, shuttlecocks, Frisbees, model aircraft or roller skates on any public bathing beach or park property except in areas set aside for that purpose." A second paragraph bans the same activities when they are not "organized."
When Cretekos asked if that meant a daddy couldn't toss a ball with his child in a city park, he was told that was exactly what it meant, unless it was done on a designated athletic field.
Cretekos tried repeatedly to persuade fellow council members John Doran, Paul Gibson, Carlen Petersen and Mayor Frank Hibbard to agree with him that the law went too far. But they were persuaded by the city staff that police needed the law so they could step in when park users or beachgoers felt they were endangered by the athletic pursuits of other users.
The issue resurfaced during Monday's City Council work session after Cretekos observed some children tossing a football in Coachman Park during the city's Fourth of July celebration. The children's parents didn't stop them. Neither did Cretekos or City Manager Bill Horne, who were nearby. And police officers there didn't charge the children with an ordinance violation for throwing their ball. Cretekos made the point that if the law wasn't going to be enforced, it ought to be struck from the code.
Council member Gibson was ready to consider a change. He said he could go along with setting up "zones" in parks where ball playing and Frisbee throwing would be allowed. But Council member Peterson wondered how the boundaries of those zones would be delineated and enforced. The zone idea was blessedly abandoned.
Council member Doran, who has a special way of simplifying matters, said the city just needs to rewrite the ordinance so it prevents behavior that imperils the public or makes the public feel imperiled, rather than shutting down everyone's fun. In brief, he said, the message of the ordinance should be "don't be stupid."
Doran has the right idea, though even he goes too far. If the city tries to use its power to protect everyone from anything that might make them feel imperiled, it is going to need a lot more pages in its code book, and it is going to impinge on the acceptable and harmless daily activities of many residents.
If the city wants to target beachgoers and park users who carelessly conduct their activities in a dangerous way and thereby put the public at risk of injury, then that's what the ordinance should forbid. Defining activities such as throwing a ball or a Frisbee as "dangerous" and making them illegal in public recreation areas just goes too far.