City of Sarasota attorney, blasts ACLU lawsuit on behalf of homeless
By Emily Le Coz via Herald Tribune
The city will continue enforcing its no-lodging ordinance despite a lawsuit filed last Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Sarasota on behalf of six homeless men who claim that the law, and another against panhandling, violate their constitutional rights.
City commissioners declined to stop enforcement Monday after their attorney, Robert Fournier, couched the lawsuit as a political ploy to force Sarasota to approve a controversial come-as-you-are shelter supported by Sarasota County but opposed by the municipality.
Commissioners reiterated their objections to a come-as-you-are shelter while debating the utility of an upcoming city-county meeting to discuss homelessness. Scheduled for Nov. 6, the meeting is intended to end a two-year stalemate on the issue, but neither side appears willing to budge from their respective positions.
“The plaintiffs aren’t being helped here,” Fournier said of the lawsuit. “They’re being used. They’re pawns in a chess game to influence policy making.”
Fournier specifically blamed Michael Barfield, vice president of the ACLU of Florida and chief architect of the lawsuit, for twisting the facts to support his agenda.
Barfield, Fournier claimed, hopes that blocking enforcement of the no-lodging ordinance will prompt a tent city to materialize at Five Points Park, thereby riling wealthy condo residents who will then pressure the municipality to cede to county demands for a shelter.
Fournier further stated that the lawsuit itself lacks any legitimate claim of a constitutional violation on the part of the city or its police officers who enforce the ordinance.