Update: The section of the panhandling ordinance titled 23-1(d)(2) in regard to political activism has been deleted. City Attorney Bob Fornier states the reason for the deletion (among other things) is because political activism has little to do with panhandling. There may be a separate ordinance drafted in regard to political activism if necessary.
If I have this weird new obsession that's conflicting with my general interest in all things fluffy. I've taken an interest in local politics and it's slowly begun to take over my Facebook page. I'm not happy about it. In fact, I've recently had every intention of stopping---but then another local blunder arises in the news and I can't resist informing people about it.
Take the city's recent decision to ban panhandling along public roadways. Has anyone taken the time to read through the subsections of the ordinance? Is so, I'm certain there'd be more of an upheaval. For instance, along with addressing the panhandling issue, the ordinance also limits certain basic rights, including the right to public protest.
No worries. It's not that big of a deal, at least according to City Attorney Bob Fournier. And why should it be? A recent Sarasota Herald Sarasota Herald-Tribune article reveals he doesn't think the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will be "happy with anything the city would do." Perhaps that's why he feels he can get away with anything.
But really now, what does the ACLU have to be upset about?
Could it be the wording of the subsection below?
Sec 23-1 (d)(2) No pedestrian shall go upon any public roadway to advertise any message, including but not limited to any commercial or business advertisement, political or activist message, or any other message regardless of content when such is directed by the pedestrian toward the occupants of motor vehicle that are on the traveled portion of the public roadway.
The definition of a "public roadway" includes streets, shoulders, medians and other other open ways of travel by vehicle operators.
So basically ... in pragmatic terms ... if anyone in the Sarasota city limits plans to stage a peaceful protest, they can do it---but only safely away from the road. I guess that also means we can say goodbye to the political activists holding signs for candidates on the shoulder of US-41. I'm certain Katherine Harris will be thrilled after nearly being side-swiped by an angry constituent a few years back. Perhaps she can be the city's poster girl for the city's ongoing excuse for the ordinance: "safety." Maybe we can get American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson to endorse it. After all, she sang it best: "Because of you ... I never stray too far from the sidewalk."
The word "sidewalk" is key here. The city continues to allow the solicitation of "donations, contributions, employment, business, sales or exchanges of any kind directed toward pedestrians on ... sidewalks."
But isn't a political sign an 'exchange' of information?Does that mean I can stand on a 'roadway' with a protest sign but only if it's facing people on the sidewalk and not traffic? Is that right? Is it the same for panhandling? It seems a little confusing and dangerous for a city that wants to keep us safe. But isn't that the history of the Sarasota City Commission---passing unclear ordinances on the city without fully considering the long-term consequences? This particular ordinance appears to allow a lot of room for people to complain due to its unrealistic nature. Is that how the sound regulations argument began, by passing an ordinance that prohibits music louder than the sound of a flushing toilet?
It's strange to me how simple and easy it is for the Sarasota City Commission to pass an ordinance, but how many months or years it takes to reverse the same ordinance once it passes. And can someone please explain to me how and why our city commissioners continually approve ordinances that violate basic constitutional rights?
I'd love to go down to Five Points Park to sit and reflect on it, but alas, we no longer have benches. Maybe I can protest that, but would it matter if no one in traffic can see me? Sometimes it seems like the commission's method is defined by just that---the hope that no one is watching. (Modified May 26th, 2013. 6:10 p.m.).