County Commission takes no action, preserving Occupy protest at courthouse

County Commission takes no action, preserving Occupy protest at courthouse

November 17th, 2011 by Ansley Haman in News

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, left, talks with Occupy Chattanooga protesters on the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse in November, 2011 .

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

POLL: Is it time for occupy protesters to move on?

Though Occupy encampments have been swept away across the nation, Occupy Chattanooga protesters are staying in place on the courthouse lawn for the moment.

Hamilton County commissioners, who said Tuesday afternoon they were poised to take action, didn't bring up the matter at Wednesday's commission meeting.

In turn, Sheriff Jim Hammond said his deputies would continue only to enforce state laws.

"The commission has not made any decision giving any direction," Hammond said.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said Tuesday afternoon it was likely the body would vote to designate a liaison to work with Hammond on enforcing any applicable laws, no item was added to the commission's Wednesday agenda.

"We're just trying to watch them as long as there are not any health and safety issues that come out of it," Henry said after the meeting.

The Occupy Chattanooga group was prepared to take legal action to void any commission action to evict them from the property, group member Scott Burnett said Wednesday.

Dozens of Occupy Chattanooga members attended the commission meeting, filling almost half the meeting room. Several group members spoke during the 10 minutes allotted to them in the public comment period at the end of the meeting.

One of those, Pamela Phillips, explained to commissioners that she wasn't an outsider or a college student. She explained she's a seventh-generation Hamilton County resident who graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, pays taxes and raised her children here.

She made the case that the group has been careful to maintain the lawn and comply with officials' requests.

"I have no doubt that the area around the courthouse is safer than it has been in years," she said.

Also at the meeting, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith raised concerns that residents still are not prepared for the state's new voter ID law, which will require registered voters to present photo IDs next year at the polls.

Last month, County Clerk Bill Knowles said state figures show more than 7,000 of those 60 and older in Hamilton County have driver's licenses without photos.

On Wednesday, Smith asked Knowles how many residents have taken advantage of the clerk's free photo upgrades for their licenses.

Knowles, who's been offering the upgrades since Oct. 17, said his office has added photos for about 120 or 130 drivers since the program's inception.

The Tennessee Department of Safety has begun opening driver's license centers on the first Saturday of each month strictly to offer photo IDs. On Nov. 5, state license centers issued more than 660 photo IDs for voters, state records show.