Orange County public plaza access under dispute

Orange County public plaza access under dispute

By David Damron, Orlando Sentinel
3:42 p.m. EST, February 22, 2012

Activists are upset that the grassy courtyard outside the main Orange County Administration building might not be completely open to the public.

When Occupy Orlando members met outside the downtown building Sunday, security guards ordered them off the plaza to sidewalks nearby. Former Democratic Party Chairman Doug Head said he wants to know why that public space is off limits.

The complaint has put Mayor Teresa Jacobs, a champion of public input and access, in the spotlight again over an open-government issue.

Head said he spoke with security officers after the 10 or so sign-making activists were removed, and they told him the Orlando police had been contacted about plaza rules being broken. Head wants that policy overturned.

“It should surely not be considered off limits for citizens who wish to engage in political activity protected by our Constitution,” Head recently wrote to Jacobs and commissioners.

After Head made his complaints public again at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Jacobs said she would look into the issue. But the mayor said she wants all the commissioners to weigh in on the liability and access issues.

Jacobs’ top staff echoed similar concerns when “no trespassing” signs posted outside the main public entranceway came under fire this month. After the Orlando Sentinel asked about the warnings, Jacobs ordered the signs taken down.

At another point last year, AIDS health-care activists made regular, combative remarks during the public comment period at commission meetings, prompting the mayor to ask for a review of the rules surrounding the public-input time. In 2008, Jacobs, then a county commissioner, was instrumental in securing the open comment period.

ddamron@tribune.com or 407-420-5311