On Thursday, City Councilors voiced their displeasure with the unknown security costs that will be associated with Tropicana Field hosting the official Republican National Convention Kick-Off Party on Aug. 26, reports William Mansell of Patch.
Starting that weekend, the Secret Service has announced a plan to shut down several streets and sidewalks along the perimeter of the Trop. Anything outside that perimeter is the responsibility of the city.
The city has spent $270,000 for security cameras for the event, though the city’s legal team said the U.S. Department of Justice and City of Tampa will reimburse St. Pete for that expense.
Expenses not associated with the cameras, such as overtime for police, firefighters and other city employees, are still up in the air, according to deputy city attorney Mark Winn.
“They may or may not be reimbursible,” he said.
Congress, Winn said, has approved a $50 million grant for security for the RNC in Tampa. All reimbursements for Tampa and St. Pete have to come out of that fund.
Winn said St. Pete is still negotiating with Tampa to get reimbursements for those expenditures. Some police costs have been submitted, but are still waiting Tampa’s approval.
Last week, the city approved the creation of an expansive “Event Zone” that regulates what you can carry, where you can go and in some cases what you can wear inside that zone.
At Thursday’s agenda review session, Council member Jim Kennedy said he was hesitant moving forward with an ordinance where expenses have not been settled. He asked the legal team what would happen should the city not go forward with the ordinance.
“If we were concerned about that, and if we voted ‘No’ on the clean zone ordinance, would that then protect us from incurring costs that we may not want to incur?” Kennedy asked.
City Attorney John Wolfe said the city does not have much of a choice. The “Event Zone,” he said, isn’t so much an RNC requirement but a necessary measure to protect St. Pete residents, property and businesses.
“It’s really to protect the city, the (city’s) assets and the property owners,” Wolfe said.
Winn said that while he expects most protesters to be peaceful and not destroy property, history shows there has been unrest and upheaval.
A majority of protesters are peaceful, however, there’s traditionally a small percentage of people who do intend to create damage, Winn said.
“Basicllay you’re saying we need to do this for self-preservation,” Kennedy said. “That we really have no choice in the matter.”
City Administrator Tish Elston, who was sitting in for Mayor Bill Foster Thursday, said Foster would not approve events that the city had no chance of reimbursement.
“From the onset the mayor has always been told we’d get reimbursed,” she said. “We are not interested in having events that can’t be reimbursed.”
Council member Steve Kornell said he understands the need, but feels that city is being led down a path without much control.
“I’d really like to see some movement on this,” Kornell said. “This is a big event, and I (don’t) think people are assuming we’d pull the plug. However, I also don’t like that we are kind of being shuffled around.
“I hope discussions move along rapidly, because I dislike the idea of voting on something that I don’t know how much it is going to cost,” he added. “It’s a difficult situation we are being put in. I hope those discussions move rapidly. That back and forth is fine, just get it resolved.”
Council member Wengay Newton expressed concerns last week that the more than seven square miles of zone was unnecessary after the kick-off party. While the party is on Aug. 26, the event zone runs through Aug. 30 because other unannounced delegate/media events are expected at various St. Pete locations.
Winn, however, said police want to keep the zone in place for the duration of the RNC week because of those additional events.
A final reading of the ordinance for the creation of the “Event Zone” is scheduled for Aug. 2.