RNC 'Event Zone' Gets Approval from Council, Backlash from ACLU
On Thursday, City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would create an "event zone" in downtown St. Petersburg when the RNC comes to town Aug. 26 - 30.
On Aug. 26, the eyes of the political world will begin to focus on the Republican National Convention. That night, the RNC is hosting its official 2012 kick-off party at Tropicana Field.
With that party and with Republican delegates in town, City Council has approved the first reading of an ordinance to create an "Event Zone" in St. Petersburg that regulates some items you can carry, what you can wear and some places you can go inside the zone.
The zone is proposed from Fifth Avenue North to Seventh Avenue South and 22nd Street to the Bay during the week of Aug. 26-30.
Council member Wengay Newton asked Chief Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn Thursday if the zone could be decreased after Sunday's kick-off party. Winn said he would check with police, but would see no reason the zone could not be smaller after the opening event but cautioned that parts of it need to remain in tact.
"We’ll be having RNC relevant events all throughout the downtown area. It is important to keep some of these in affect," Winn said. "(The zone) probably doesn't need to be that large after the Trop event is over."
When the proposal for the "Event Zone" was released, the action was quickly met with backlash the American Civil Liberties Union.
On July 18, Joyce Hamilton Henry, Director of the ACLU's Mid Florida regional office, sent a letter to Winn outlining four major concerns with the city's proposal.
- That demonstrators have the right to protest near the kick-off event, other RNC parties, parks, sidewalks and even near hotels where delegates are staying. The ACLU recommends that if the city wishes to allow this, that it makes the proposed "Event Zone" ordinance clearer.
- That common items, such as aerosol cans, are prohibited. The ACLU argues that sunscreen on a hot Florida day should not be outlawed. The group also took issue with "any container filled with any liquid, solid or gas".
- Third, ACLU says the city should not ban items, such as masks and shields, designed to protect citizens from inquiry. Both items, according to the ACLU, are inherently defensive items.
- Finally, the ACLU argues that any item presenting "danger", as the ordinance reads, could be banned would lead to confusion. The ACLU said the ordinance is too vague and leaves too much decision making with law enforcement.
Winn addressed those concerns briefly today during an agenda review meeting and during Thursday afternoon's City Council meeting. He said the ACLU does have some valid concerns and will be adjust some language in the ordinance for clarity.
On some issues, he said, he will go to police but suspects things like ice chests will still be prohibited.
"To suggests that citizens need to have shields and gas masks," Winn said of the ACLU complaint. "That’s what our police (are) for."
Council member Jim Kennedy lamented Thursday that the city cannot regulate, "real guns and real bullets" but can regulate air guns and super soakers.
There will be street closures for the Aug. 26 opening event, but the city cannot release that information until it is released by Secret Service.
"They will tell us, and not ask us, and may not tell us for another few weeks," Winn said of Secret Service releasing traffic and security information.
At the RNC official kick-off party, nearly 20,000 delegates and members of the media are expected at the home of the Rays.
After Thursday's unanimous approval, the public hearing on the proposed RNC Event Zone ordinance is set for Aug. 2.