City Council briefed on changes to proposed DNC ordinances, including camping ban

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Proposed revisions to city ordinances for the 2012 Democratic National Convention include language that would ban camping on public property.

During a Charlotte City Council workshop Tuesday, council members were briefed by city staff on an update to ordinances for the September convention. City manager Curt Walton said the ordinances will go in effect immediately upon approval. The revised ordinances would have a profound impact on those who plan to demonstrate during the convention, particularly those camped at the Old City Hall on East Trade Street.

Walton recommended the council hold a public hearing on the matter on Mon., Jan. 9, and then to vote on the ordinances at the council's Jan. 23 meeting. The council agreed to the timeline.

Nearly two dozen members of Occupy Charlotte attended the workshop, including Scottie Wingfield, who spoke to the council members, urging them to protect camping as free speech.

"Overnight occupying is not camping for recreation. It is camping as demonstration," Wingfield said. "Because camping as demonstration is free speech and free assembly, council members, it is your duty to protect it and ensure that there is a space where it can be practiced."

While the ordinances ban a lot of things, including camping, they also empower the city to alter the permitting process for parades and protests and to create a "free-speech zone," Walton said, that will include "a stage with amplification" for approved speakers.

In the original draft, the city also would have been required to provide a 24-hour notice to campers facing eviction; that language has been eliminated and no notice will be required. Another change from the original draft: there's no longer any language that allows the city manager, or his delegate, to make an exception for camping.

Deputy Chief Harold Medlock, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, made several references to the Occupy movement across the nation, though he didn't specifically mention Occupy Charlotte. And while the city has contended that the ordinances are not aimed at the group, Medlock did say that if the revised ordinances go into effect, “you can’t camp on public property in the city of Charlotte, period.”

Camping — still defined in the ordinance as a "public nuisance" — will be disallowed on all public property including sidewalks. The original ordinance draft called for a 24-hour written notice to a camper and included telling campers where and when they could retrieve any personal belongings. That language has been eliminated from the proposed ordinances.

“There will be an occupation presence at the DNC, with or without tents,” said occupier James L. Walker II.

Should the ordinances pass, it also will be illegal to possess or disperse "noxious substances" or "any substance that is harmful or destructive or foul to human beings, such as but not limited to garbage, trash, refuse, animal parts or fluid, manure, urine, feces or other organic waste by-products."

If approved, one of the proposed amendments will empower the city manager to declare an event such as the DNC "extraordinary," and thus change the permitting process for parades and protests, said Walton. Permits will go through a lottery process, he said. Walton also said that "key permits" will be issued for parades and "certain types of demonstrations.” Further, the city will be able to yank already issued permits at its behest and establish only one route for parades during the DNC.

City attorney Robert Hagemann assured council that the ordinances will not impede anyone's First Amendment rights or otherwise be unconstitutional. He also told the council to expect lawsuits since other host cities have been sued in the past.


Image Credit: Milo Nickels

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