Spring Break was once again the big discussion at the Panama City Beach City Council Meeting. It was standing room only as residents packed City Hall Thursday afternoon to weigh in on the hot topic.
"We would like to do something that will encourage safe fun for college spring breakers and discourage negative predatory behavior," Julie Hilton, Vice-President of Paradise Found Resorts and Hotels, said.
Dozens of business representatives, like Hilton, and residents voiced their opinions on what council members should do about Spring Break.
City Manager Mario Gisbert presented 20 recommendations, which he compiled after speaking with residents and business owners over the past few weeks. The suggestions range from providing additional law enforcement, to requiring businesses to stop selling alcohol at 2:00 a.m. only during spring break and restricting coolers on the beaches also only during spring break.
The City Council didn't make any formal decisions at the meeting. Mayor Gayle Oberst and Police Chief Drew Whitman said hearing from the public and looking into these recommendations are the first steps in a long process of addressing the community's concerns.
"We need to hear the public. We need to hear, not only the business owners and the churches, but we need to hear from the citizens, and it gives us an overall prospective," Mayor Oberst said.
"I'm trying to find a happy medium," Chief Whitman said. "I've got a group, far extreme, that wants Spring Break shut down, do away with everything, and I've got another group that says leave it alone, let it be the wild, wild west so some of the recommendations seem a little strict, but they're not as strict as some people wanted then you'll see some that are not too strict."
Council members also addressed another heated topic at their meeting, changes to the way scooters are rented.
A proposed amendment to a current ordinance would require the scooter rental business to provide on-site driving training, a safety brochure with traffic laws, and equip every scooter with a color-coded flexible flag on the back. Renters and drivers would not be allowed to drive off the lot without wearing a helmet and reflective vest.
The amendment also removes current language in the ordinance requiring 16 and 17 year old drivers to wear a helmet while operating a scooter and does not address liability insurance. The Council removed the section requiring the entity renting the vehicle to carry insurance until it can look into insurance coverage more.
Councilman Keith Curry was the only council member to vote no on the first reading of the ordinance. Curry said the council was rushing to establish the new rules.
Police Chief Drew Whitman said having a new ordinance in place by the Memorial Day Weekend would help set a tone for the entire summer.
The council is expected to further address both topics at their regular meeting in May.