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No support for ban on nudity

Hillsborough County commissioners, except for Ronda Storms, feel it's premature to put a ban before voters.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published June 3, 2004

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TAMPA - Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms had more than 500 churchgoers in her corner. The crowd filled the commission's board room, flooded the stairwell and packed the lobby.

They came armed with more than 10,000 signatures and a video presentation. All to back up Storms, who was fighting Wednesday to get a referendum on the November ballot that would ban public nudity.

But in the end, Storms couldn't get even one commissioner to second her motion to put the item up for vote.

"I'm shocked at my colleagues," she told the crowd. "I'm shocked and appalled. You should give the people an opportunity to vote on it."

The audience hissed, booed and jeered board chairman Thomas Scott, a preacher, as he tried to explain himself.

"To all my colleagues in ministry," he opened. "You rely on your legal team for guidance ..."

Scott and the other commissioners felt it was premature to put the issue before voters. They wanted to wait on a ruling in a Manatee County case in which a similar referendum was upheld by a district court but later shot down. It is currently on appeal.

However, Storms argued that no harm could come out of moving forward.

"No one here is advocating to adopt the ordinance today," she said before the motion died. "We have the foundation. Let the people vote."

Storms' plea was preceded by appeals to the commission by Tom Biles of the Tampa Bay Baptist Association and David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association. Both men are also leaders in Citizens for Decency, a grass-roots group of church members spearheading the effort.

Citizens for Decency turned out in impressive numbers. Due to fire regulations, anyone standing was ushered out of the room.

Amid the sea of Christians was nude dance club owner Joe Redner, who was thrown out for yelling insults at Biles as he tried to address the commission.

Biles argued that Hillsborough County had three times the number of adult businesses as Miami.

"That's not true!" Redner screamed from the audience.

Biles continued, throwing out rape statistics.

"That's a lie!" Redner said.

A security guard ushered Redner out of the meeting as he screamed: "He is a liar! Call a liar a liar. Pray for the liar!"

Redner then taunted the overflow crowd gathered downstairs with an article about a priest accused of molesting altar boys.

"This is where the child molesters are," Redner said, pointing to the headline.

Upstairs, Gibbs asked that county residents be given the chance to vote on whether or not they want to set a community standard, to shed Tampa's reputation for strip clubs.

"Is this what we want to be known for?" he asked. "Is this what we want to call home?"

Commissioner Jan Platt made the argument that while there are eight adult establishments in the county, most of the businesses are within city limits.

If a ban passed, the city could vote to opt out of it.

Last week, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio wrote a letter to County Administrator Pat Bean informing her that the city was not prepared to get involved in the issue of public nudity.

"We have many public policy issues that we are currently working on and, like all governmental bodies, a limited amount of time and resources to apply to them," Iorio wrote.

When Storms made the motion to place the item - which has yet to be crafted - on the November ballot, she was met with silence.

"It died, lack of a second," Scott said. "There was no second."

Storms then offered a different motion: to have commissioners vote on placing the ordinance as it had been written and presented at a previous meeting.

That, too, failed to gain any momentum.

Later, when Commissioner Kathy Castor gave her reasons for not supporting a Pat Frank-backed item on the agenda, Storms looked at Frank and said, "Don't worry, I've got daggers in my back, too ... Feels good, doesn't it?"

- Times staff writer Graham Brink contributed to this report.

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 01:00:36]


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