A delegation from the Occupy Durham protest arrived at City Hall while the City Council was meeting tonight. Mayor Bill Bell adjourned without giving them a hearing, but City Manager Tom Bonfield and City Attorney Patrick Baker stayed behind to meet with the group for about 20 minutes.
About 45 protesters wanted to know what city ordinance prohibited them from pitching tents at CCB Plaza, where the demonstration began on Sunday. They said they had been informed about 4 p.m. today that the city sanitation department would remove the tents if they were not taken down by 5 p.m.
By 5 p.m. the tents were gone, but demonstrator Mary Grace said police, when asked, had not cited an ordinance.
At City Hall, Baker said the city code does not specifically ban tents at CCB Plaza, but it is standing policy of the city parks department that erecting shelters there – "camping" – is not allowed without a permit.
City Councilman Mike Woodard, who stayed to watch the exchange, said afterwards that he had told protest organizers more than a week ago that they needed to apply for the permit in advance, but they had not done so.
Baker and Bonfield said the demonstrators were welcome to remain at CCB Plaza as long as they like, but not to raise tents or other structures.
They also refused to turn on the Plaza's electricity, which was cut off after demonstrators used it Sunday without authorization, despite a request from City Council candidate Victoria Peterson.
Questioned further, Baker offered to meet with Occupy Durham representatives on Tuesday after he consults with Bonfield.
Bonfield appeared to become testy as the meeting went on and questioners pressed for specifics such as the city's definition of "camping" and whether the shelter ban would be enforced in case of bad weather or in the case of homeless persons.
"You're going to do what you're going to do," Bonfield said. "We'll respond when you do it."
The group thanked Bonfield and Baker and returned to CCB Plaza, where an unsheltered "general assembly" continued the Occupy Durham demonstration.