I posted this on behalf of the reporter, Kevin Duchschere, who covers Hennepin County for the Star Tribune:
About two dozen participants and supporters of the OccupyMN movement went to the Hennepin County Board Tuesday to ask for tents to continue their around-the-clock protest against corporate America.
The commissioners didn’t take a vote. But based on their discussion, it’s likely that the “occupiers” of the Government Center Plaza in downtown Minneapolis are going to have to keep zipping their sleeping bags all the way up.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you all to be sleeping there at night,” Commissioner Mark Stenglein said.
Members of the protest testified for more than an hour at an open forum during a board committee meeting. Many spoke eloquently about broken government and corporate greed, the basic reasons why they have insisted on camping out in the plaza since the protest began Oct. 7.
“We need to stop motivating ourselves through the profit motive,” said Jason Oliver of south Minneapolis. The gross domestic product, he said, “is not representative of the actual health of our society ... These are not partisan concerns.”
But they said it will be difficult and even dangerous to continue the demonstration if they’re not allowed tents or some kind of shelter to ward off the overnight chill. County officials have barred the use of tents on the plaza, allowing only a large canopy without sides.
“We do need some sort of structures if we plan to stay the winter,” said Sam Richards.
“Hypothermia is a very serious thing,” added Molly Sharp, of north Minneapolis.
Dan Rogan, an assistant Hennepin County attorney, said a Minneapolis ordinance bars the use of a tent or other temporary structure for the purpose of living in it. Exemptions apparently are granted only in cases of emergency.
County Administrator Richard Johnson said the county has sought no permit or indemnification from the group, which officials have characterized as “an informal gathering.”
Besides Stenglein, Commissioners Jeff Johnson, Jan Callison and County Board Chair Mike Opat said they didn’t favor tents for the protest.
Opat said he’s not sure what message is sent by people sleeping in the plaza, and Johnson said the ongoing demonstration is costing taxpayers “a lot of money.”
County and city offices said Tuesday that more than $200,000 has been spent policing the area since Oct. 7, most of it in overtime costs. The county administrator said the sheriff’s office has run up a bill of $127,000, and the cost to the county’s Property Services Department is $25,000. Minneapolis police said overtime has cost the city about $56,000.
Callison said she doesn’t want to see “tent cities,” particularly with no end date. “I don’t think there’s unlimited public patience for the consumption of public resources,” she said.
After the meeting, some of the protesters said that the ability to stay in the plaza overnight ties the Minneapolis demonstration with the national movement, facilitates 24-hour discussions and reinforces solidarity.
“Staying overnight is a form of expression because we say we’re not leaving,” said Adam Lee of Minneapolis. “We want to stand with the rest of the world,” said Elizabeth Dahl of St. Paul.
The Minneapolis police noted Tuesday that no one has been arrested in the protests, but its officers have been deployed to “ensure the safety of the crowd through traffic control duties” and other operations.
A department news release Tuesday said police spent four hours removing graffiti and stickers from a mobile camera that the police installed on the plaza to watch the protests.
Sheriff Rich Stanek said that in addition to overtime costs, his department has spent about $50,000 in redeploying deputies to the plaza who had to delay carrying out their typical duties.
So far, the Sheriff’s Office has arrested one person for trespassing, issued one trespass citation and two trespass notices and handled five medical incidents. Stanek said that “97 percent” of the protesters are behaving responsibly.
“Overall, we’ve been pleased with the responsiveness of the folks exercising their First Amendment rights,” he said.