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Hillsborough Commissioners temporarily change policy on public speakers

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The publication of a dossier of critics of a Confederate monument in Hillsborough County has prompted at least a temporary change in how the board’s policy on how public speakers address the board.

The County Commission voted Thursday to temporarily have speakers only give their name when addressing the board, and not a home address during the public comment portion of their meetings. The move comes after Save Southern Heritage published a dossier last month listing names, addresses, phone numbers and other comments about the 113 people who spoke out against the monument during the board’s July 19 meeting.

Commissioner Les Miller‘s original motion was to have the county’s legal staff address how to change the current policy so as not to put public speakers personal safety at risk.

“We as elected members of this board of county commissioners took an oath to protect the citizens of this county by any means necessary,” Miller said from behind the dais at the BOCC’s meeting Thursday. “If we don’t, we’re disavowing the oath we took to promise and uphold that oath.”

The published information by Save Southern Heritage prompted a furious reaction from activists who were listed in the report. It also prompted the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee to ask Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren if the publication of the speakers’ personal information was illegal.

Warren said the document did not rise to the level of a criminal offense.

“What took place was wrong,” said Commissioner Victor Crist, who said that the publication of the dossier was clearly meant to intimidate. But he added that it would be taking “the easy way out” to not collect any data from individual speakers.

“I don’t know why we need to be collecting people’s specific addresses,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp. “I don’t know why we should perhaps put somebody at risk.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman suggested that one thing that the board could do was to only allow citizens from Hillsborough County speak at their meetings, saying it was something that other county commissions in Florida do. The Save Southern Heritage dossier reported that a significant number of those who spoke out against the monument hailed from outside of the county.

Most board members dismissed the idea.

“We are a regional area, made up of five to seven counties, and some of the decisions that we make affect our neighbors, and some of the decisions that our neighbors make affect us,” said Crist. “I think that it’s important that we are able to hear and learn and listen to all of those that may be affected in or outside or borders the decisions that we make.”

Ultimately, that motion failed on a 6-1 vote, with only Ken Hagan dissenting.

The county’s legal staff then voted 7-0 to have county staff research the issue and come back with their own recommendation on the current policy of collecting the addresses of public speakers.

One supporter of Confederate monuments, Al McCray, apologized for the publication of the dossier.

“I’ve been associated with many Confederate causes since 2000,” he said. “I cannot believe a group or groups that I was once associated with would stoop so low and to take people’s personal information and put it online. That will help robbers, telemarketers … even though it was legal, it does not mean it was not immoral.”

Earlier the board voted 4-2 to enact an ordinance that would protect monuments and memorials erected to honor war veterans or the conflict they fought in. The proposal would not affect the removal of “Memoria In Aeterna,” the 106-year-old monument that the county is currently removing from the county courthouse annex on Pierce Street.

The decision to remove that monument became final last month after community residents raised the $140,000 in matching funds required by the BOCC.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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