COCOA BEACH, Florida -- As first reported by Brevard Times, a petition drive had been underway to remove the newly-hired Beach Rangers from beaches on Cocoa Beach, Florida.
After nearly a month of online debates between both supporters and opponents of the program, each side was finally able to address the Cocoa Beach City Commission during tonight's Commission meeting.
Mark Wolfgang, who started the petition to end the Beach Ranger program on Change.org in early August, told the City Commissioners that the 15 new beach ordinances that came along with the Beach Ranger program were both vague and unreasonably harsh.
Wolfgang cited the penalties of $500 fines, 60 days in jail, and two-year trespasses as too harsh for subjective laws such as "refraining from activities that endanger themselves or other people." Wolfgang then gave a hypothetical example of gymnasts performing back flips and cartwheels on the beach that would meet the strict interpretation of the ordinance.
"Enforcers of the law should not be deciders of the law," said Wolfgang. "We do not have speed limit signs that say 'Don't Drive Too Fast'."
Mark Clancy, who supports the Beach Ranger program, said that the City and residents went through a two-year process to come up with the program - and that "It is a policy of the residents of Cocoa Beach."
Clancy questioned whether Wolfgang was in fact a resident of Cocoa Beach. Clancy asserted that after looking over several of the Facebook profiles liking the 'Say No To The Beach Rangers' Facebook page, that only a handful of the people that like the page are actually from Cocoa Beach.
Clancy said that he found 'disgusting' comments on the Beach Ranger opponents' Facebook page calling the Beach Ranger's "Nazis" and that Wolfgang "owes this community an apology" for allowing such remarks.
"If they don't like our rules," Clancy added. "I say trespass them and get 'em out of here."
Cocoa Beach Deputy Police Chief Buddy Ayres gave a slide show presentation at the meeting where he said that 1,440 verbal warning had been issued since the Beach Rangers had started.
Ayres gave kite boarding near people as an example of what would be considered a dangerous activity and that trespasses are only issued in instances where there was a breach of peace.
During the slideshow, Ayers showed pictures of deep holes that were dug on the beach and trash that is collected in the Beach Rangers' ATV by the end of their daily shifts. "We're not looking to stop the building of sandcastles," Ayres said.
City Commissioner Kevin Pruitt recalled how the Beach Ranger program got started as an alternative to banning alcohol on the beach altogether because the spring breakers were becoming "uncontrollable". "But why penalize locals for visitors acts?" Pruitt questioned. "Did we make some mistakes? Of course we did."
Pruitt said that he met with the Cocoa Beach Fire Marshall to review the banning of charcoal grills on the beach. "Since we hadn't had a major fire issues, the Fire Marshall rescinded the law," said Pruitt.
Pruitt inquired to Ayers as to the cost of the Beach Ranger program versus a police, firefighter, and lifeguard response. Ayers said that the cost of three Cocoa Beach Police Officers at the end of Minuteman for the same time period when the Beach Rangers took over would be around $48,000.
As to the $138,000 budget cited by opponents, Ayers said that the start-up costs were around $50,000 for equipment and that only $83,000 is budgeted for next year.
City Commissioner Skip Williams expressed his satisfaction with the Beach Ranger program. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse. That goes for Cocoa Beach and the rest of the United States," Williams added.
Commissioner Dave Netterstrom said that it was "Better to go in strict. Then ease up as we learn."
Pruitt agreed, saying "We are going back and re-looking at all the ordinances. The uniforms are going to be more tropical," Pruitt added with a grin.
Ken Griffin, the oldest City Commissioner, said, "It took us 15 years to straighten out Prohibition. We will review it, and the new Commissioners I'm sure will review it. This is not cast in stone."