Polk County Officials Deny Permit for Use of Park for Quran-Burning Event

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Jones says he is not deterred

Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 3:32 a.m.
BARTOW | Polk County officials have denied Florida Pastor Terry Jones a permit to use Loyce E. Harpe Park near Mulberry today to burn 2,998 Qurans, which means law enforcement can demand that he leave if he attempts to move ahead with his plans.
Jones said Tuesday afternoon he’s not deterred.
“We are going to check with our lawyers and find out what our legal options are,” he said, “but that’s a public park and I don’t know how they could ask us to leave until we’ve done something wrong.
“But I can tell you we are not planning on leaving the park.”
Jones, whose church, Dove World Outreach Center, had been in Gainesville but is moving to Bradenton, plans to burn the Muslim holy books today as a memorial to those who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He planned the event for Polk County after a resident near Mulberry offered his one-acre homesite for the event. That resident later withdrew his offer, prompting Jones to relocate the event to the county-owned park.
In a letter to Jones on Tuesday, county officials said his application to use the park wasn’t specific enough, and he filed it last week, leaving them with little time to review it.
“The Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the (county’s) Risk Management Division have yet to complete their review, making it impossible to develop terms and conditions to address health and safety concerns,” the letter states.
County officials also said Jones wasn’t specific enough when he responded to their initial questions regarding his application.
“The limited nature of your responses (for instance, not identifying the area within the park you wish to use, details about the burning activity that is not typically allowed in the park, and the lack of a traffic management plan) was not acceptable,” the letter states.
Jones had said in his written response to the county’s questions that he will use an enclosed burning facility, and he will have adequate fire extinguishers and other fire prevention methods with him at the event.
Mianne Nelson, spokeswoman for the Polk County Commission, said the county generally needs at least two weeks notice to review a facilities use application, and Jones submitted his Thursday.
The county’s denial authorizes county representatives, including Polk Sheriff’s deputies, to ask Jones to leave the park if he begins his program, Nelson said.
According to the county’s ordinance, Jones could be arrested for trespass if he doesn’t comply with an initial demand that he leave.
Donna Wood, spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said the department isn’t commenting on this issue.
[ Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at suzie.schottelkotte@theledger.com or 863-533-9070. ]

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