BRADENTON -- At Tuesday's Manatee County Commission work session, public officials tackled the obvious but sensitive issue concerning the rainbow of newspaper racks surrounding intersections and entrance ways throughout the county. The county seeks to enact an ordinance that deals with the two primary objectives: improve both the safety and aesthetics of roadside "news racks."
For years, Manatee County has invested in the allure of county parks and beaches, and public officials now feel the lack of a clear ordinance to control the proliferation of multi-colored, multi-sized news racks is threatening that asset.
Charlie Bishop, Manatee County's Property Management Director, presented board members with a presentation composed by Carmine DeMilio, Manatee's Parks Operation Manager, displaying the problem that the current miscellany of news racks present.
The present county park codes do not provide specific guidelines other than the posting of signs, distribution of handbills, circulars and/or advertisements.
County officials are looking for direction within the legal and administrative limitations, to regulate and enforce a general policy that curtails the erratic placement of news racks.
Florida Statutes 705.101 -- 705.104 provides a statutory scheme whereby a county government may obtain the lawful removal and disposal of property abandoned on county property.
The concerns are many. At the beaches, where county officials propose to place the first three replacement racks should the county enact an ordinance, safety is a larger issue than concerns over ambiance. Bishop says, "These racks can quickly turn into dangerous projectiles with a gust of wind."
Bishop and DeMilio presented the commission with an alternative to the displaced news racks, should an ordinance prevail -- a permanently-mounted bank, or modular news rack that can withstand hurricane winds .
Officials will have another challenge in replacing the current news racks; the first amendment. To navigate around how free speech will be protected will not be easy.
At some locations, news racks number more than a dozen; some at a cost to consumers and some free. For the free publications, the talk of a lottery that periodically shuffles the number to the available slots may be the approach officials experiment with.
Commissioners will revisit the issue and possibly vote on a proposed ordinance at a future BOCC meeting.
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