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Baker's 1st veto? For the birds

© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 7, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayor Rick Baker made some local history Thursday, vetoing an ordinance passed by the City Council last week that placed limits on bird feeding in public parks.

It was the first time since voters gave the mayor veto authority in 1999 that one actually used it. Former Mayor David Fischer never chose to override a council decision.

Baker recognized the significance of his decision and its implications. The ordinance was passed specifically to control a man who dons goggles, puts out large quantities of bird feed and lets birds defecate on him at a park off Sunset Drive South.

"This is not the way I wanted to go down in history," Baker said Thursday. "But this is the way the cards were dealt."

Baker said he felt the bird feeding ordinance, which he said would have actually allowed police to put a child in jail for up to 60 days for feeding a bird more than a slice of bread in a public park, was just too strong.

"In my mind, I was picturing kids in the park, which I see all the time with a little baggie full of bread feeding birds in the grass," Baker said. "And I don't think that was ever the intent to chill that kind of activity in the community, but I think it will be the effect unless we find a way to soften it."

The council passed the ordinance at the request of council member Richard Kriseman, who was trying to help some residents who live on Sunset Drive in his district. Those residents complained that John Bryant's (not the City Council member) daily pigeon-feeding habit had become a health hazard.

"In the past, we have had 350 pigeons being fed daily 365 days a year," wrote Allen Conner, president of the Sunset Drive Neighborhood Association in a letter just two days ago thanking the city and Mayor Baker for passing the ordinance. "This causes a nuisance with all the excrement being left behind."

Conner could not be reached Thursday.

Kriseman said Thursday he would not try to override the mayor's veto because he didn't think he had the support to do so. The council can override a veto with a vote of support from six of the eight members.

But when council members passed the ordinance Nov. 29, only five supported it. Council members John Bryan, Virginia Littrell and Bill Foster opposed it.

Its status as the only mayoral veto, however, may be short-lived. The council is considering a human rights ordinance that would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, and Baker has gone on record that he is opposed to it.

Foster said there is nothing that could be done to the bird-feeding ordinance that would make him accept it. As it is written, the ordinance would prohibit an individual from tossing more than an ounce of bird seed in a public park on any given day. Someone caught violating the proposed ordinance could have faced up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine.

"It made something as innocent as feeding the birds a criminal act in the city of St. Petersburg," Foster said. "This to me is drastic. There has to be a better way to handle this John Bryant character than to pass an ordinance that is so sweeping across the entire city, which is pretty silly."

Baker said he'd work with Kriseman to come up with some solution to the problem of Bryant, but neither elected official was sure what that was.

The council passed an emergency ordinance Nov. 8 banning all feeding of birds in parks, streets and on sidewalks. It does not expire until Dec. 13, the council's next regularly scheduled meeting.

Bryant, a self-proclaimed mathematician, member of Mensa and author of Success in Marriage and The Secret of Making Friends and Keeping Them, said Thursday he has not fed the birds for about three weeks. He said he figures they would be upset if he just showed up with a small amount of birdseed.

The St. Pete Beach man said he was not sure whether he would go back to the park off Sunset Drive South. St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena both have passed ordinances limiting the feeding of birds to stop him.

He was also the reason that the city passed an ordinance banning public urination and defecation after residents reported he would urinate into a container and have his wife toss it into the park off Sunset Drive South.

Bryant said he was excited to learn of the mayor's veto.

"It's one of the greatest Christmas presents to ever have," said Bryant. "I'd say this is a great victory for sanity."

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