The question came approximately halfway thru a seminar hosted by the Florida ACLU on Tuesday night inside the Reeves theater on the University of Tampa campus. It was the civil liberties organization's third forum held between the city's police department, legal staff and the public about what the rules are regarding protesting at the convention taking place later this month.
Assistant Police Chief John Bennett said that he has been monitoring websites that address that question, with some motel or hostel rates going for as low as $20 a night. He suggested that's where those with limited funds should look for if they intend to come to Tampa later this month.
The question of allowing the city to have protesters take access to a city park to camp in was floated earlier this year, particularly by former City Councilman John Dingfelder when he was working with the local ACLU.
As everybody learned during the Occupy Tampa situation at Curtis Hixon Park, camping overnight is forbidden in the city's public parks. But when asked earlier about the idea, Mayor Bob Buckhorn did not immediately dismiss it. But his Police Department did, shortly after the idea began being circulated.
Bennett explained that the city did not want to be held liable for anybody who might be sexually molested or hit by lightning while sleeping under the stars.
Bennett said that he had spoken extensively with Dingfelder about this issue, but for him, "it came down to safety."
There already is an encampment organizers have labeled "Romneyville" that exists behind the Army-Navy Surplus Store on North Tampa Road that has been created for convention protesters to stay. Though there currently are only about 12 tents in the area, organizers say there is enough space for 300 tents which they say they are prepared for by the time the convention begins.
Organizers signed a contract with the land's owner, and say they will depart after the convention ends.
Although many of the issues addressed had been discussed at an earlier seminar or webinar, some members in the audience seemed to be particularly perturbed by the fact that puppets will be banned from being employed in protests.
Though not actually banned in the city's "event zone" ordinance, puppets are essentially not allowed because the TPD says the components that make up puppets, such as strings and sticks, have been used previously as weapons against law enforcement at previous demonstrations.
In the same vein, the city is banning containers "filled with any liquid" in the event zone, but intends on having stations providing a total of 50,000 gallons of water for protesters, police and anyone else who happens to be on the streets downtown near the hub of activities.
As they have stated before, both Bennett and City Attorney Jim Shimberg said everything that is banned in the event zone is for that same reason, because such materials have been used in past demonstrations as a way to injure or harm others.
Another audience member challenged the absurdity of the city's banning of puppets (though not explicitly, of course) with the reality that people could be packing guns in the event zone.
As was widely reported months ago, Mayor Bob Buckhorn appealed to Governor Rick Scott to make an exemption to state law and permit the city to ban guns where protesters will congregate a short distance from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Though the city's hands are tied on doing anything about that, Shimberg advised those in the audience who don't like the law to reach out to state legislators, not that anything is likely to be done in the two and a half weeks before the convention commences.
Meanwhile assistant public defender Rocky Brancato said that there will be three and possible four court hearings daily to handle protesters during the convention in Hillsborough County. There will be dockets at 8am, 2pm and 8pm for continued arrests. A forth such docket could be heard if there are mass arrests.
Brancato said he believes the majority of offenses committed during the RNC will be misdemeanors, meaning bail will probably cost either $250 or $500. He said for those arrested outside the event zone, they will probably be going to the Falkenberg Road jail to be processed. If inside the event zone, it will be at the Orient Road jail.
The ACLU's Mike Pheneger wrapped the forum with a brief speech. In it, he said there was definitely one thing different about the people coming to Tampa for the convention vs. other big events that the city has hosted, such as the Super Bowl or the annual Gasparilla parade.
For the RNC, he said, most of those in the streets won't be inebriated.