BRADENTON -- The city of Bradenton moved one step closer to implementing its first trespass ordinance for public property on Wednesday.
Bradenton City Council voted to set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Jan. 23 at City Hall to consider creating a trespass ordinance. A second reading will precede the hearing, after which council members could vote to implement the ordinance.
The first reading of the ordinance was Wednesday.
Bradenton police requested the measure as part of its effort to ban law breakers and troublemakers from the skate park at Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton. Police said fights and other incidents involving non-skateboarders have occurred at the park.
If issued a citation, offenders would be banned from the public property for one year.
City council members, including Mayor Wayne Poston, showed support for the ordinance.
"What we're really talking about is an ordinance to control problematic behavior," said Ward 3 councilman Patrick Roff. "The habitual offenders."
Though all were in favor of moving forward with a public hearing, Ward 5 councilman Harold Byrd Jr. was concerned with the wording of the proposed ordinance. Byrd, who has four public parks in his ward, said the ordinance should maintain a certain threshold for criminal behavior.
"We don't want that perception out there that we're trying to remove any class of people," he said.
Byrd said specifying certain criminal acts on city-owned property could help the city avoid possible litigation if the alleged offender challenges the constitutionality of the citation.
"When you're not specific, your reliance is too much on the enforcement of it," Byrd said.
The cities of Sarasota and St. Petersburg have trespass ordinances in place, but have been involved in litigation for its enforcement.
In April, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the city of Sarasota for attempting to remove homeless people from city sidewalks.
In October 2011, a federal court ruled homeless plaintiffs had valid claims in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of St. Petersburg's trespassing ordinance. The lawsuit suggests the ordinance violated their rights to freedom of movement and procedural due process.
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said citations would be issued at the officers' digression.
"Because you're eligible for being arrested doesn't mean an officer will arrest you," he said. "We're looking for compliance."
Bradenton police Officer Tony Cerniglia, who patrols Riverwalk, previously said the skate park has been closed on more than one occasion to disperse crowds of all ages, and a few juveniles have been taken into custody. The issue, Cerniglia said, is once juveniles are in custody, they are quickly released to their parents and will sometimes return to the park hours later.
Ward 4 councilman Bemis Smith, who visited the park one weekend and witnessed several fights at the skate park, defended the skateboard community Wednesday. Smith also said people who question the construction of the skate park and its value aren't seeing the big picture. He referred to a popular skateboarding magazine mentioning the skate park as one of the best in the country.
"Just about anybody in the public parks business, we would be so happy to have that much space to use," Smith said. "Our park, as a whole is, to stimulate activity. That park probably gets more use per square footage than any park in Manatee County."
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams