Lawrence City Hall officials soon are going to want a better definition of what the “occupy” in Occupy Lawrence really means.
City Hall leaders on Tuesday night began to express concern about the approximately 30 people who are camping in South Park as part of the Occupy Lawrence protests.
“I don’t think they will be allowed to stay there indefinitely,” said Toni Wheeler, the director of the city’s legal department. “We’re now evaluating how to proceed.”
Those comments come just one day after Mayor Aron Cromwell made comments that indicated the campers would be allowed to camp in South Park as long as they were peaceful. But Cromwell on Tuesday said he should have done more to emphasize that the campers must follow city rules. Generally, camping in city parks is prohibited unless a group has a special permit. Occupy Lawrence’s permit expired Sunday.
“They have to follow our rules, and we do not allow camping in our parks,” Cromwell said. “Their permit has expired, and that has to be dealt with.”
But Cromwell stopped short of saying the campers would immediately be found in violation of the city’s ordinance. Instead, Cromwell said a dialogue will need to be opened with the campers to “work together to resolve the issue.” Wheeler said her office was exploring the best way to do that, but offered no specific timeline.
“I don’t have a good feel for that now,” Wheeler said when asked how much longer the city may allow the camping. “I would just say days.”
All of this may be news to the Occupy Lawrence campers. A few members of the group attended Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, and a representative thanked the city for its understanding.
“We want to tell you that we’re keeping it peaceful,” said Sean Maupin, a camper and Lawrence resident who works as a nighttime stocking clerk at Walmart. “We’re not trying to make enemies up here. We appreciate everything you’re doing.”
City commissioners or city officials did not bring up any concerns about the camping during the meeting. Instead, officials expressed those concerns outside of the meeting in response to questions from the Journal-World.
The campers who came to City Hall indicated that they intended to stay in the park for an “indefinite” period of time. When pressed, they said that could mean many days or weeks, even noting that colder weather likely would draw more attention to their cause.
Maupin confirmed the campers are using an open fire to stay warm, which city officials said they were not aware of.
The campers indicated that they would see it as a violation of their rights if the city insisted they leave the park.
“The city has been very good to work with and has been very understanding,” said Deb Terry, a 20-year Lawrence resident who does not work because of a physical disability. “If that situation changes, I can tell you that we will still be there.”