Pensacola Politics

Council passes panhandling ordinance, ‘Cosson Rule’ for internet use

May 21, 2013

By Brandy Volovecky

The Pensacola City Council voted to approve an ordinance to the city code that would prohibit aggressive panhandling in downtown Pensacola at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday.

Councilwoman Sherri F. Meyers, District 2, expressed serious concern about the ordinance and was the only council member to vote against it. Meyers proposed a motion to table the ordinance until more documentation could be made available showing proof of the need for the ordinance. The motion also asked for the mayor to provide a reason “why the (downtown area) is provided a higher level of protection against aggressive panhandling than any other are of the city, including the city’s primary business core.”

“We do not have the facts, we do not have the studies, we do not have the police reports,” Meyers said. “And I find it highly offensive and highly disturbing that this ordinance gives a level of protection to the CRA district that other areas of the City of Pensacola do not have.”

There were mixed feelings about the ordinance among audience members. Deb Corbin, one year resident of Pensacola, said the ordinance is necessary to the safety and security of Pensacola residents.

“Many times these people are criminals and/or homeless people in need of medical attention, sometimes mental,” she said. “I don’t have those credentials to make that distinction.”

Richard Ponner, staff member at the Alfred-Washburn Center of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, said he felt the ordinance would make the job of volunteers much more difficult.

“We are the only day canter for homeless to take showers, to do laundry, to receive non-perishable foods and other services,” he said. “My concern is that nothing has been placed in this ordinance to have an advisory
group or to counterbalance the impact of the enforcement of the ordinance.”

The council also voted to approve an Acceptable Use Policy for city technology. The policy applies to all equipment owned or leased by the City of Pensacola and forbids the use of such equipment to view or distribute copyrighted material, send or view harassing, defamatory or discriminatory material. The use of social media on city-owned equipment is also forbidden in the policy.

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, City PIO Derek Cosson admitted that he and his girlfriend had used city wifi to anonymously bash council members and others opposed to Mayor Hayward’s policies–from late August 2012 to January 2013. City Administrator Bill Reynolds said Cosson would not be punished because he claimed the PIO was following orders. Later an email was released to the IN from former Chief of Staff John Asmar, dated late 2011, instructing Travis Peterson and Cosson to correct information on the “blogs.” Peterson never posted anonymously to this blog from city wifi. Cosson didn’t do it until over six months after the email. Asmar told the IN that he never told Cosson to post anonymously and the PIO’s posts were in violation of the city code of ethics.

Teri Levin’s appointment to the Downtown Improvement Board was also approved by the council. Levin will finish the remainder of her son, Evan Levin’s, term which expires on June 30, 2014. A 34-year-resident of Pensacola, Levin and her late husband, Allen Levin, developed Tristan Towers, Emerald Isle, Verandas, Portofino Resort and Beach Club Resort.

The council will hold its regular meeting Thursday evening at 5:30.

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