Tampa Revives Public Nuisance Abatement Board
TAMPA - Police were constantly called out to deal with drunks and other incidents at a troublesome East Tampa bar. No matter how many arrests were made, the problems persisted. Eventually, the city bought the bar and closed it down. That was last year. Now the city is looking to an old solution to prevent similar problems. The city created a public nuisance abatement board in 1990. The board was active for more than a decade but essentially disbanded a few years ago.The board is back; its organizers held an organizational meeting this month. Lynette Judge sought and received an appointment to the newly organized board because "there's so much work to be done," she said. Judge is a neighborhood activist in East Tampa. "We're trying to build a great city, and we can't let businesses come in and do whatever they want and destroy the neighborhood," Judge said. "They have to understand there are certain codes and regulations they have to follow. There's so much work to be done." The nuisance abatement board can take testimony and review documentary evidence. It can listen to complaints about places where prostitution, gang activity, drug sales or dealing with stolen property have occurred. One of the group's main functions is to hear cases about properties where there has been a pattern of problems rather than isolated instances. For example, a location can be declared a public nuisance if it was the site of two or more prostitution incidents or drug sales in a six-month period. The board can impose fines and, in limited cases, can close a business. A 2001 state Supreme Court ruling limited when public nuisance abatement boards could close businesses to instances where the illegal action is intertwined with the business itself. For example, a board can't close down a hotel where drug dealing is going on unless it can show the drug dealing is an inseparable part of the hotel business. Otherwise, the board needs to find a way to stop the drug deals without closing the hotel. "That puts a crimp on the remedies we can use but forces us to be more creative," said Jorge Martin, a senior assistant city attorney. Some solutions the board can use: requiring security officers at a business or mandating security cameras, Martin said. For awhile, Tampa's board was fairly active. In 1996, the board closed a motel for a year because of complaints about drug dealing and prostitution. Two years later, the board closed the Honky Tonk Bar for up to a year as a way to put an end to complaints about drug trafficking outside the bar. And in 2004, the board told a lingerie modeling shop to install video cameras and remove doors from modeling rooms after three prostitution arrests occurred there. "I hope they stay meeting and focused in case something does come up," Councilwoman Gwen Miller said of the revived group. Richard Reavis, another board member, said he hopes the public nuisance abatement board can step in where the code enforcement board can't. He particularly wants to focus on cases involving illegal drug activity. The board's next meeting is May 27. No cases currently are scheduled.
Reporter Ellen Gedalius can be reached at (813) 259-7679 or firstname.lastname@example.org.