The Occupy Asheville demonstrators are requesting an exemption from city rules to allow them to camp in Pack Square. Meanwhile, Asheville City Council members and city staff are discussing possible ways forward, and the legal ramifications, via email.
This afternoon, Oct. 10, Occupy Asheville’s media working group announced, via email, their intention to request the exemption and speak before Council at its next meeting, Oct. 11. The announcement reads as follows:
Asheville NC – Occupy Asheville, the local movement standing in solidarity with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests will be presenting at Asheville City Council chambers at 5pm Tuesday where the Council could vote to waive a 10pm park curfew that would permit a people’s camp to assemble within Pack Square Park/Roger McGuire Green.
Since Occupy Asheville began on September 28th, as many as 40 campers have been camping overnight on public and private space around downtown Asheville in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street campers. A permanent space for public assembly for camp, General Assembly decision making meetings, as well as working and discussion groups is being considered within Pack Square Park. The park is currently constrained from assembly by a 10:00pm night curfew ordinance.
Adding fuel to this request, on Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said New York City will allow the Wall Street protesters to stay indefinitely, provided they abide by the law.
Preceding the Council meeting, a First Amendment rally will occur in City-County plaza to encourage City Council members to join local citizens, small businesses, and others in their support of the Occupy Asheville and Occupy Wall Street movements.
City staff and Council members are already discussing how to deal with the situation. This morning, City Manager Gary Jackson sent an e-mail to Council members, Mayor Terry Bellamy and the city’s department heads, suggest they look at the city of Seattle’s method of dealing with its Occupy demonstrators:
Mayor Bellamy and Council Members:
The City Attorney is preparing for you an opinion memo covering the basis and legal authority to set reasonable park hours. Tuesday night, City staff will be prepared to address Council questions which may arise from public comment related to park regulations and the permit process.
Seattle’s Mayor does a good job identifying the competing issues and interests that the City must reconcile when requests for exceptions to our ordinances are made.
Here, provisions are in place for reservation of Pack Park or other park property for various special events, but camping creates special problems we generally would hope to avoid. However, if Council would like us to give special consideration to a park permit in this case, we would look to the organizer for detailed plans on how, for a limited period, they would ensure a safe, healthy camping environment in the park. Provisions for restrooms, daily cleanup, off-duty police assignment, etc. may be necessary.
Alternatively, if the Seattle model is of interest to the majority of Council, we could assist in identifying suitable city property which is not part of the park system. An example might be use of the Public Works building parking lot from 10 pm to 6:30 am.
If you have any additional questions for me or Bob [City Attorney Bob Oast], please let us know.
To which Bellamy replied:
Thank you for the email. I have been in contact with the organizer and they are coming to speak tomorrow. Staff has requested an opportunity to speak to council before a decision is rendered.
Council member Gordon Smith, who forwarded these e-mails to Xpress, shared some additional information about Seattle’s approach, attaching a statement from its mayor, forward to Smith by Tom Sullivan, a regular contributor at the Scrutiny Hooligans political blog he founded. Smith added the following:
Mayor and Council,
As we’re likely to hear from a number of Occupy Asheville folks tonight, I thought I’d share this approach being used in Seattle. This statement is from Seattle’s Mayor.
Seattle has invited local Occupy demonstrators to set up in its City Hall Plaza, attempting to keep a local park demonstrators had used open for regular access.