Commission likely to discuss Occupy Chattanooga protesters

Commission likely to discuss Occupy Chattanooga protesters

November 16th, 2011 by Ansley Haman in News

Sam Mills sleeps in a chair at Occupy Chattanooga in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse just as the sun starts to rise. Mills and an estimated dozen occupiers maintained their campsite in front of the courthouse.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Occupy Chattanooga be allowed to camp on the courthouse lawn?

Hamilton County commissioners likely will take steps today to deal with the Occupy Chattanooga tent city that popped up last week on the courthouse lawn.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said County Attorney Rheubin Taylor is drafting a resolution that will allow a commission representative to coordinate with Sheriff Jim Hammond to take whatever actions are legally allowable to deal with protesters camping on the lawn.

"There's not a single commissioner on here that's wanting to violate anyone's constitutional rights," Henry said. "Our concerns are the health and safety of the grounds there at the courthouse."

At least six commissioners held a private meeting with Taylor on Friday to get legal advice on the matter, which they likely will vote on today. No resolution had been added to today's meeting agenda by the end of the day Tuesday.

The commission oversees the use of the courthouse lawn, Henry said. He and his fellow commissioners want to be careful not to "circumvent any law or necessarily to get them off the property," he said.

At one point the encampment included a portable camping toilet. Protesters also have been burning fires in a firepit on the lawn.

Last week, they plugged into the county's power supply, but stopped when asked. When asked by law enforcement to stop burning wood, they turned to charcoal, an Occupy Chattanooga news release said. Protesters also said they removed the portable toilet when asked to do so.

"We have raked and removed leaves and marked landscape plants with wire stakes to preserve them," the release said. "We intend to leave the courthouse lawn in as good or better condition than when we found it."

WHAT'S NEXT

The Hamilton County Commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. today on the fourth floor of the County Courthouse.

Members of the movement apparently have followed the actions law enforcement have asked them to take, Henry said.

"We are not trespassing at this public space," the Occupy release said. "Neither are the couples we've seen exchange wedding vows, the runners who've jogged side by side through the walkways, or the business people who stroll by together in the course of their day. Like all who meet in this public space, we are peaceful, law-abiding free citizens."