Hillsborough board drops public nudity ban idea

Commissioner Ronda Storms had requested a legal opinion from the county attorney.

Published September 2, 2005

TAMPA - Hillsborough's Charter Review Board pondered Thursday whether to include a ban on public nudity in its proposed changes to the county's constitution, but ultimately dropped the notion.

The review board convenes every five years to propose changes to the county charter. The matter of banning public nudity came to board members' attention at Thursday's meeting because County Commissioner Ronda Storms had requested an opinion from the county attorney about whether the issue could be addressed with a charter amendment.

The conclusion of the county attorney: "probably yes," with some reservations about how such a prohibition would be enforced.

The charter board received a copy of the legal staff's memo. Some members were annoyed by the confusion over where the memo came from, and why the matter was being investigated when it wasn't on their agenda.

The controversy arises as some east Hillsborough residents have been fighting a possible bikini bar opening in Valrico, which is in Storms' commission district.

"I don't know who is out there working on this, but I know county money has been spent," said Charter Review Board member Gerald White. He objected to the county attorney's conclusion that a charter change could be a way of handling the problem. Voters could be duped into thinking that a charter amendment on nudity would lead to a crackdown on erotic clubs and adult bars, he said.

"I have a concern putting evil language into our charter and opening up a can of worms," White said, noting that no other county in Florida deals with public nudity in its charter.

"I don't think it would be smart to break new ground and inject this into a charter," White said.

Board member David Storck took exception to White's comments. "Mr. White, I'm appalled at what you just said, that the citizens of this county do not have the right to put something on the ballot," Storck said. "I didn't know we were in the process of muting that voice."

White countered saying he wasn't against public participation in ballot issues. On this one, though, he feared the public would be confused.

Jan Platt, former county commissioner and review board chairwoman, said citizens were free to pursue a referendum on their own by gathering petitions.

"We have no jurisdiction over that process," she said. Also, the county commission could opt to put a referendum on the ballot.

Luke Lirot, an attorney for many adult entertainment establishments, warned that the county would waste a lot of money if it dealt with the issue in its charter.

The reason, Lirot said, is that a referendum to change the charter to ban public nudity could not be enforced on its own, a point backed up in the county attorney's memo.

Even if it was written into the county charter, law enforcement could not act against public nudity unless the County Commission passed an ordinance. And it would need to base that on some verifiable public safety problem, he said, such as a spike in crime or public health issues involving adult clubs.

Ultimately, the board dropped the subject, keeping it out of proposed changes to the charter. And there was no support for the idea of adding it to the agenda of their next meeting.

Hillsborough County commissioners last year considered whether to have a county referendum to gauge the public interest in establishing a tougher nudity ordinance, similar to the one being challenged in Manatee County. The commissioners chose to hold off until pending lawsuits could be resolved.