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City to #OccupyMaine : no standoff necessary; just talk to us

Portland's chief spokeswoman says there is no need for concern about attempted city restrictions on the OccupyMaine group's activities, despite a strongly worded press release the OccupyMaine group issued earlier today suggesting otherwise. "I think there's some confusion," says Nicole Clegg, the city's communications director. "There's no effort on the city's part to restrict their right to assemble."

Here's the press release (more information follows):

PARKS AND RECREATION GRANTS PERMISSION FOR ONE WEEK OF SPEECH AND ASSEMBLY TO OCCUPYMAINE

On Wednesday, October 5th, OccupyMaine applied for a permit from Parks and Recreation in order to set-up a canopy in Monument Square during inclement weather. The application, filed by OccupyMaines legal advisor, John H. Branson, was met with a distressing reply from city official Ted Musgrave.

Musgrave, not accustomed to approving the use of city property for 1st Amendment purposes for spans of time longer than eight to sixteen hours, decided to give OccupyMaine permission to operate in the square under protection of the First Amendment for no longer than one week.

OccupyMaine will not, under any circumstance, seek permission from the City of Portland to exercise their constitutional rights of speech and assembly in a public space nor are they required to do so under the Portland City Code or the Constitution. To demand they do so is a flagrant case of prior restraint. As Branson responded in a letter to the citys corporation counsel, Mr. Musgrave suggestion that my clients did not have the citys permission to exercise their first amendment rights of speech and assembly for more than a week amounts to prior restraint on speech that is flatly unconstitutional.

Musgrave advised Branson that the Department of Parks & Recreation does not issue permits for structures on City property. However corporate structures have become an established presence in Monument Square. As recently as this past February, Sugarloaf and Sunday River have been permitted to use this public space to construct a 20-foot tall ski slope in the middle of the square.

Contrary to the treatment of corporations, which have been able to exercise their free speech and have been permitted to erect structures in public space for private gain, OccupyMaine is being denied the right to exercise their collective, non-commercial speech, a right protected by the First Amendment.

This is precisely the type of injustice OccupyMaine is protesting against. They have not, and will not seek permission from the City of Portland to assemble, speak, and occupy our public space.


---End of OccupyMaine; back to Jeff at the Phoenix

The note they refer to is this. I've bolded the relevant section, and explain more below.

hi john -

 RE: your AP requesting permission to erect a canopy at Monument Square

 Recreation does not issue PERMITS for structures on city property.

  1st amendment use of city property gives the user the option to use a 
table + chair as part of the event..  (usually done for signature collecting 
on petitions, etc)
  if inclement weather - and the participants were still using the space, 
then Recreation would allow one 10x10 canopy being set up over the table + 
chair (as long as it was not impeding the public way sidewalk area)....  and 
naturally, the space was not already permitted for another event:   farmer's 
market is in the square on mondays + wednesdays, and there is much activity 
at the square on First Friday Night Art Walks (which is coming up friday, 
october 7)

   usually a request for 1st amendment use of city property is normally just 
for a few hours... and not 8-hour to 16-hour spans of time.
   this email will serve as your permission to use Monument Square for one 
week.  please email me if your stay is less or if you need an extension of 
time.

  i have cc'ed city staff on this email...  so that all understand that a 
10x10 canopy is OK to be setup on the square during the inclement weather 
days..  during the daylight hours, up to 10pm.
   your revised AP is also attached.  thanks

--Again, back to Jeff at the Phoenix. 

Clegg admits the note could have been worded differently, but says the city does not issue permits related to First Amendment activity on public property, because that is protected by the Constitution. The "permission" referred to was for the use of the canopy, which is beyond the normal scope of First Amendment structures (usually a table and chairs) that groups typically want to use, Clegg says.

The reference to a week related to the canopy, as does the request for notification about "an extension of time."

Clegg says the city has been very cooperative, including allowing OccupyMaine members to camp out in Lincoln Park, which is not normally allowed under city ordinances. "We've tried to be as accommodating as we possibly can," she says. "I really wish they would have picked up the phone" and talked to city officials - who Clegg says are on their way to Monument Square to clear things up - especially when the OccupyMaine group apparently perceived a radical change in direction of the city's attitude toward the group. "If you feel like we're infringing on your rights, . . . call us and ask us what's the deal," she says.

She says the city would like to know the group's plans as they develop, so as to be able to coordinate upcoming events in Monument Square and Lincoln Park. (The Occupy group moved to avoid blocking the weekly farmers' market yesterday morning, for example.)

"We've been trying to balance the various competing interests," she says. "We have some upcoming events where Monument Square and Lincoln Park have been permitted for other uses" - including a walk to raise money to fight breast cancer. Even during those events, Clegg says, the city will let the Occupy group know where other nearby locations are that they can use for their activities.

Overall, she says, "There's no restriction . . . Our intent is to work with them," while noting that "public spaces can be spoken for by other groups" whose First Amendment rights the city also must respect.

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