1. Florida Politics

St. Petersburg leaders delay approval of rules for RNC Event Zone

Published Aug. 3, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Lingering questions about rules for an Event Zone for the Republican National Convention prompted city leaders to delay approval Thursday.

For example, the council spent 30 minutes debating whether the ordinance — which bans liquid containers in a large area of downtown — meant people could be arrested for carrying pickles or laundry detergent from Publix.

"There are some tweaks that need to be made," council member Charlie Gerdes said of the ordinance.

St. Petersburg police Maj. Melanie Bevan, who is coordinating the RNC security details, said officers will use their discretion when applying the rules.

"Our goal is not to respond to someone throwing a jar of pickles," she said. "The goal is to have an orderly event."

The council voted 5-3 to delay a vote until Aug. 9 or 16 despite Chief Assistant Attorney Mark Winn urging them to approve the rules Thursday.

"We have reached a point where we can go as far as we can go" in terms of clarity, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida disagreed.

The group wants stricter language included that makes it clear that protesters can gather as long as they don't block streets or sidewalks.

"It's not ready for prime time or passage," said group president Michael Pheneger, a retired Army colonel.

The delay comes a week after the council expressed concerns about passing the ordinance until Tampa agrees to reimburse the city for police expenses surrounding the Aug. 26 kickoff party at Tropicana Field.

The rules will help police control areas around the stadium and other parts of downtown from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.

Some council members had suggested delaying passage of the rules until they got assurance from Tampa that they would be reimbursed for security costs.

Tampa is getting a $50 million federal grant to pay for extra police personnel and convention-related security purchases, such as police gear, vehicles and communications equipment.

With 20,000 delegates, dignitaries and journalists expected to attend the welcome party, hundreds of officers will be needed to secure an Event Zone encompassing about 7.4 miles of downtown.

City lawyers from Tampa and St. Petersburg have been negotiating a reimbursement agreement. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor met with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and police officials Monday. Foster expects to have that agreement signed by next week.

If Tampa doesn't contribute money from the federal grant, St. Petersburg could request reimbursement from the Tampa Bay Host Committee, which organized the welcome party.

Foster reiterated Thursday that no general fund money would be used: "I will not do anything that causes the city of St. Petersburg taxpayers to bear the costs of a private party."