By Rachel Brown Hackney
Operating hours for county parks, including those at the beaches, are being established, thanks to a June 6 County Commission vote amending the County Code chapter that governs all park operations.
Additionally, county staff has been working on appropriate new signage to post.
Among the changes the board approved is one that allows County Administrator Tom Harmer — as the county’s code administrator — to set park-specific hours, as needed. Moreover, a new section in Chapter 90 of the County Code makes it possible for a law enforcement officer to charge any violator with a second-degree misdemeanor. Imprisonment would not exceed 60 days, and no fine could be higher than $500, the law says.
During recent board meetings, Commissioners Alan Maio and Charles Hines have expressed frustration over the lack of legal means to deal with vagrants lingering at Nokomis Beach Park after hours. That park is located at 100 Casey Key Road in Nokomis.
The new Section 34 of Chapter 90 says, “Except for permitted uses, County Parks shall be open to the public only during posted hours.” However, it adds that City of Sarasota parks and Sarasota County School Board facilities are exempt from that provision.
After Tricia Wisner, operations coordinator for the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), concluded her presentation on June 6, Maio thanked her and all the PRNR staff “for all the work” on the modifications to Chapter 90.
With approval of the changes, he pointed out, “the drunken nonsense in our beautiful park system all night long — provided Mr. Harmer addresses the hours of operation — is over and done in a couple of days.”
(In response to a question from Hines, County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh said state law requires a copy of changes to a county’s code to be filed with the Office of the Florida Secretary of State. It typically takes a couple of days, DeMarsh added, for the county to receive confirmation that state officials have received the modifications.)
When Hines asked Wisner what type of training county staff would be providing to law enforcement officers, who will be responsible for dealing with violations of the new regulations, she replied, “We have met multiple times with the Sheriff’s Office, as of June 1.”
Wisner added that staff was prepared “to begin production of the new signs that would be required.” Staff also planned public outreach about the changes, she continued, and then the Sheriff’s Office would be prepared to enforce the regulations. She emphasized, “We do need that time for the community outreach.”
Another significant change eliminates language that prohibited the use of cigarettes, cigars or any other tobacco products in county parks. A 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruling in December 2012 involving a City of Sarasota case made it clear that state law pre-empts any county ordinance related to smoking.
A memo then-County Administrator Randall Reid distributed a to the commissioners in January 2013 explained that the judge found that “prohibiting the use of tobacco products in non-designated areas of city parks … is unenforceable and in conflict with the state statute known as the ‘Clean Indoor Air Act.’” However — thanks to a Keep America Beautiful grant the county has received — county staff is installing cigarette butt receptacles on Turtle and Siesta beaches to try to prevent accumulation of such trash on the shoreline.
Among other changes to the Chapter 90, Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, pointed out that a new provision prohibits the anchoring, docking or mooring of watercraft in parks between midnight and 6 a.m. on a daily basis, unless the activity has been authorized by permit, or posted signage says otherwise.
Furthermore, Wisner said, unless otherwise permitted, no boat, trailer or vehicle may be left unattended for more than 24 hours in a county park.
With another modification, the law says, overnight camping will be allowed in designated areas and by permit, “upon payment of … any required reservation fees.”
Fires will continue to be prohibited in county parks, the revised ordinance notes; however, the public will be able to use propane grills and grills provided by the county.
Yet a further change, Wisner pointed out, includes hunting among prohibited activities. She indicated that an earlier scrivener’s error had omitted that provision. Additionally, the revised ordinance includes language saying that Public Beach Park also means any public parkland located along “any Sarasota bay.”
One further change defines Permit as “written authorization issued by the Code Administrator to use a park facility or participate in a program or event at a County Park or Beach in accordance with County Parks General Facility Use Guidelines available for review at www.scgov.net/parks.”
As Brown pointed out in her remarks, Chapter 90 “is the primary section of the [County] Code relating to parks.”