In a unanimous decision that took 5 hours of public testimony, presentations and debate, the city’s Public Safety Committee voted last night not to recommend to the full city council that it approve the petition of OccupyMaine, (“OM”), for a 24-Hour Speech and Assembly Zone in Lincoln Park. The application was filed by John K. Branson, pro bono attorney for the group on November 29, 2011, a deadline set by the city. The city council meeting is set for Wednesday, December 7th at 7 pm. Public comment will be taken at that meeting before the Council votes on the petition application.
OM began its free speech movement on October 3, at Monument Square. Due to criticism from the business community and others, the encampment was asked to move to Lincoln Park, in an administrative decision. The group, which has grown to a community of about 55 tents at times, has been tenting there with no permit from the city. Not surpsingly with outdoor and overnight camping, numerous public health and safety issues have arisen. These problems are compounded by the economic situation of most of the Park residents. On November 17th, city officials and department heads conducted a walk-through of the Park. The group found serious city code violations with an escalation of service calls to the Police Department, some very serious and some less serious. Subsequently, a meeting was held between city officials and Branson and reps from OM at city hall. Consequently, Branson filed the above referred to petition for permit.
After much testimony by opponents and proponents at the untelevised meeting which slightly favored the proponents in testimony, councilor David Marshall, said he could not support the petition “as written” because he had doubts about overnight camping in the Park. He hoped the two groups could continue to work together, however. The usually reticient councilor John Coyne was animated in his criticism of OM. “There are many holes in the petition. It fails to meet most of the conditions set by the city.” He was critical of the failure to have a food service license, etc. and said the city could be “on the hook for lack of insurance at the Park.”
Equally demonstrative in his criticism of OM was chair of the Committee Ed Suslovic: “The public safety there is a near disaster about to become a total disaster. I can’t turn a blind eye to that. We have demonstrated that the health and safety of the Park is in danger.” His list of issues included concerns about one group taking over about 2/3 of the park with no way of limiting the number of participants and the damage already done to the landscape in the park and who would pay for its restoration when OM vacated it.
“Clear out of the park now and come back to the council with a more reasonable proposal,” Suslovic advised Branson and his pro bono clients.
On Wednesday, December 7th, the city council will take testimony from the public once again before voting on the OM petition for a permit submitted by John K. Branson, pro bono attorney for Occupy Maine. Branson may submit an amended petition for that meeting.