At its Oct. 25 meeting, Asheville City Council voted to terminate Occupy Asheville’s encampment under the Lexington Avenue bridge by Oct. 28, while waiving fees the protesters had incurred. A request by protesters to get a curfew waiver to camp in public parks failed when only one Council member supported it.
Protesters, who filled the chambers and an overflow room, asked for a waiver of the 10 p.m. curfew in public parks to allow camping, claiming that this falls under the rights of free speech and assembly, and many said the spot the city has allowed them to camp for the past two weeks — under the Lexington Avenue overpass — is “toxic” and “horrible” due to issues with air quality, the mentally ill and some members of the homeless population.
Council members, however, were worried about the precedent they might set by waiving the rules. Council member Gordon Smith praised the movement, which he said has the potential for lasting social change, but said that it’s hard for a leaderless movement to negotiate with local government. He made two motions, to terminate the temporary spot on Oct. 28 and waive all the fees the encampment would have normally occurred. The first passed 6-1, with only Council member Cecil Bothwell opposed. The second passed 4-3, with Mayor Terry Bellamy and Council members Jan Davis and Bill Russell opposed. Bellamy had said she had concerns about waiving the fees, citing costs incurred to the city by the protest’s presence, including extra Asheville Police Department officers detailed to attend tonight’s Council meeting.
Bothwell, who expressed wholehearted support for the protest, made a motion to waive the normal curfew and direct staff to find a public park for the demonstrators. His motion failed for lack of a second.
After Council’s votes, about 60 Occupy Asheville protesters assembled outside city hall, and 22 police officers gathered nearby. The protesters chanted slogans, including “this is what democracy looks like” and “give cops a raise.”
The protesters’ general assembly delivered the following message to APD Chief Wade Wood just before the end of the meeting:
“Plan for a peaceful transition and closure of the encampment on Lexington Avenue. Continue to respect and protect the rights of public protesters while using discretion wisely in the enforcement of laws.”
Council’s next meeting is Nov. 22.