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Tampa City Council takes final step to rein in explosive speech

Changes by the Tampa City Council in its rules on public comment during meetings may affect frequent speaker Tony Daniel, whose vulgar protests have offended council members. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
Changes by the Tampa City Council in its rules on public comment during meetings may affect frequent speaker Tony Daniel, whose vulgar protests have offended council members. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Mar. 15, 2018

TAMPA — The Tampa City Council took the final step Thursday in what may turn into a showdown with its members' most persistent — and outrageous — critic.

Council members voted 6-1 to amend their rules to allow the removal of speakers who are verbally vulgar or threatening or who launch personal attacks against council members. The language was largely adopted from Hillsborough County Commission rules.

Council members and City Council attorney Martin Shelby have been careful to say the change isn't targeted at an individual, but Tony Daniel looms large in the subtext of their decision.

For more than 20 years, Daniel has been an often profane and nasty critic of the city. He has been arrested for his behavior a number of times and once chained himself to a chair in council chambers. More recently, he has driven a pickup truck decorated with Confederate and Nazi flags, a picture of Mayor Bob Buckhorn and multiple uses of the n-word.

Since 2011, Daniel, 60, has been involved in a legal fight with the city over a house in east Tampa, owned by Daniel's daughter, that has been expanded without permits. The fines total $1.86 million so far.

After largely disappearing from council chambers for years, Daniel returned with a vengeance about a year ago. In recent months, he's used crude slurs toward Chairwoman Yvonne "Yolie" Capin and Harry Cohen. On Thursday, he hurled an extended personal attack at Frank Reddick.

At a February meeting, after Daniel suggested the city start an "A--h--- of the Year award," council member Mike Suarez asked him to refrain from language he wouldn't use toward his mother or grandmother. Daniel, who is black, responded that Suarez was a racist.

Last week, Daniel told council members that changing the rules wouldn't change his behavior.

"I'm going to leave out of here in handcuffs if you think you can handcuff my speech," he said.

Charlie Miranda cast the lone vote against the rule change. Miranda said the rules were too vague for his comfort. And people should have the right to air their grievances, however distastefully delivered, he said.

"Whether I like the messenger or not is not the question for me. The question for me is if they have a message," Miranda said.

Miranda said speakers during the three-minute public comment period don't say anything worse than what people have told him to his face on the street.

Capin had a different take.

"Here's the difference. We're not out in the street. This is a public forum. That is what is being addressed here," Capin said.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have the final word on the subject this year.

In 2006, Fane Lozman was arrested during a Riviera Beach City Council meeting for comments he made about city corruption during the public comment period. Two federal courts have upheld his conviction for disruption of a lawful public assembly. Oral arguments were made last month.

Daniel, who could not be reached for comment, will not have to wait that long to find out how serious council members are in reining in his provocative speech. The next regular City Council meeting is April 5.

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Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampaby.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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