The only real news that came out of Thursday's hearing was that the city's code enforcement division determined that the encampment of protesters in the park violated a section of the city's zoning ordinance in commercial-intensive districts. Jake Slater, the city's director of Code Enforcement, said that his department had issued that violation order on August 14, and therefore protesters would have 21 days to comply. If Redner does not begin enforcing that edict, a hearing would be held 45 days out.
But since Occupy and Redner had already agreed that the encampment would move out by September 15, the whole issue was moot.
But that didn't stop the Council from engaging in over an hour of discussion about the conditions not only at the park, but the West Tampa business district as well, and about the power of allowing the activist group to have a place to speak out against various issues, particularly when the Republican National Convention hits town in less than two weeks.
Councilman Reddick represents West Tampa, and he was emphatic that the rights of the residents and business owners are being trampled upon by not cracking down on the activities at the park right now, especially with the fact that beginning next week the activist group Food Not Bombs has announced that they would begin serving meals at the park.
Reddick continued to throw out attendance figures between 3,000-5,000 people who he says will be flock to the park, and says that will stress out local law enforcement. And he said there had been numerous complaints about sanitary conditions there, displaying a photo that showed a Portalet that had been not been properly cleaned.
The councilman, who originally supported the group when they first accused the Tampa Police Department of harassment when they began sleeping on the sidewalk of Curtis Hixon Park last fall, questioned why, if the encampment was against the law, did the city need to wait 21 additional days before enforcing that law. His reasoning was that some of the activists have been staying in the park for this entire year.
City officials fumbled for a forthright response, but until the complaints came in from some local West Tampa neighborhood officials in July, the city had acted that as a private park, the encampment was beyond their legal purview. That prompted Councilman Mike Suarez to question the city's legal department on what rights did the city have in enforcing such laws on a property they didn't own. City Attorney Jim Shimberg responded that the city had answered that question by having code enforcement determine that all zoning laws applied to the park. And that's as far as he would go in his response.
Later Council member Mary Mulhern, who last year visited Occupy weeks into their stay at Curtis Hixon Park (the only councilperson to do so), disgustedly said she didn't want to see the city waste more time or possible legal costs since Occupy and Redner had already agreed that they would soon be moving out of Voice of Freedom Park.
"They're waving their white flag. I don't want to see this city spending anymore time and money going after people who are really trying to do something about the inequities that we are all facing right now."
Councilwoman Yolie Capin has consistently opposed Frank Reddick's stance that West Tampa's problems originate with the activist group's encampment. She says through her own research that the community definitely has issues, but their not because of Occupy Tampa. She described again her experiences in observing Main Street late on Friday evenings, where thousands of people fill the streets.
But Reddick was undeterred, calling on the owner of the West Tampa bar Zanzibar, Bernard Jordan, to discuss the issues in the community.
But Jordan instead concurred with Capin about the wild Friday evenings, saying it has become a regular situation the past two summers. "We don't have that much of a problem with Occupy Tampa" he admitted.
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said the Council had failed in not being able to find a place for activists to stay during the RNC in recent months (though in fact the Bob Buckhorn administration and Tampa Police opposed that). "We spend all of our time on welcoming the Republican National Convention attendees, and all of the individuals who will be gathering here for the convention," she said. "We didn't spend a lot of time finding how to welcome those who are going to come here to protest. So the idea that they found a place at Voice of Freedom Park through the graciousness of Mr. Redner, was a godsend to us."
Councilwoman Mulhern asked that with the city spending $50 million in taxpayers money for security at the convention, perhaps the city could provide water and another Portalets for the park with the expected crowds to come for the feedings being offered by Food Not Bombs.
However Frank Reddick was not the lone councilwoman to express concerns about the potential of overflow of people into West Tampa and specifically Voice of Freedom Park. Councilman Harry Cohen demanded to known what the city was doing to prepare for the possible throng coming to the area, and asked if the city was prepared to pay for potential damages if there was violence done to the property there.
With nobody from the city's police department on hand to field his query, City Attorney Jim Shimberg said that outside of the event zone, the TPD wasn't about to publicize their strategies to combat potential crime.
For his part, Joe Redner told he invested some of the money he won in a lawsuit against the city regarding to do something positive for West Tampa, which resulted in the creation of building Voice of Freedom Park. He said that when he observed the hassles the Occupy Tampa movement was having last fall in Curtis Hixon Park, "I thought I was doing the city a favor as a matter of face," adding that he does sympathize with the aims of the activist group, saying they have worthwhile goals and as far as feeding the homeless, "what's the problem?"
Redner later said that he hadn't known until it was announced in the meeting that in fact code enforcement was going to send him a letter about banning encampments in the park. He appeared sheepish about the whole state of affairs, but it wasn't a bad day for him by any stretch, as his son's acclaimed Cigar City Brewing brewery in West Tampa won approval to expand its facilities on a 5-2 vote, with no public dissent.