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Council deals blow to plaza restrictions

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 13, 2012 - 1:51 PM

A move to block loitering and sleeping in city-owned plazas after midnight took a blow Friday morning when the City Council opted to hold public hearings.

Council President Barb Johnson introduced the plaza resolution, which targets the Occupy Minnesota movement, at the last minute. Opponents, led by Council Member Gary Schiff, argued that it is substantial enough to be considered an ordinance change, therefore requiring a public hearing.

"I do object to a city council that would attempt to pass an ordinance without a public hearing," Schiff said. "Particularly an ordinance that calls for new penalties, new citations, new actions by our police department." 

About two dozen members of the Occupy movement filled the Council chambers, occasionally raising their hands to express agreement with a point.

Johnson's resolution would bar all activity in plazas except "traveling through the plaza without delay" between midnight and 6 a.m. It is seen as a direct response to Occupy's dustup with police last weekend over their right to sleep in Peavey Plaza.

The 9-4 vote sent the item to the Public Safety and Health Committee. Johnson says she intends for it to remain a resolution rather than an ordinance, per advice from the City Attorney.

"What we're trying to do is clarify the use of time and sharing of the plaza," Johnson said. "We have 150,000 people that work in our downtown every day. Three hundred and eighty-some thousand people that live in the city. And its important to balance the interests of everyone to run a successful city." 

She related it to parks that have closing times, and said it mirrors what Hennepin County passed after Occupy camped out on the Government Center Plaza.

Mayor R.T. Rybak has Johnson's back. His chief of staff, Jeremy Hanson Willis, sent an e-mail to the Council during the meeting stating that "Mayor Rybak supports the resolution establishing rules for public plazas owned or controlled by the City."

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