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Council deadlocks on Occupy Tucson free speech zone

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Council deadlocks on Occupy Tucson free speech zone

  • Councilwoman Regina Romero discusses her push to create a free speech zone at Tuesday's afternoon study session.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comCouncilwoman Regina Romero discusses her push to create a free speech zone at Tuesday's afternoon study session.

A move to create a free speech zone in Veinte de Agosto Park, and cease ticketing Occupy Tucson demonstrators, failed as the Tucson City Council deadlocked on a 3-3 vote.

A motion by West Side Democrat Regina Romero didn't pass during the council's Tuesday afternoon study session, with only council members Karin Ulich and Richard Fimbres joining her. Paul Cunningham, Shirley Scott and Steve Kozachik voted against the move.

At Tuesday's afternoon study session, Romero called on the City Council to order that:

  • Veinte de Agosto Park be named a "free speech zone."
  • City of Tucson Parks and Recreation staff waive permitting fees and curfews for Occupy Tucson protesters at Veinte de Agosto Park.
  • Occupy Tucson participants respect any and all traditional and permitted events that are taking place in City of Tucson parks.

Cunningham and Scott expressed concerns about scheduling,permitting and insurance issues with a free speech area.

Cunningham offered an alternative motion, that would have led to further discussion of a free speech zone not specifically in Veinte de Agosto Park, but it failed to receive a second from the rest of the council.

Mayor Bob Walkup was absent, creating the possibility of a 3-3 tie on Romero's motion.

Romero also proposed that the city move some of its funds from national banks—a major target of the nationwide Occupy protests—to local credit unions.

City Attorney Mike Rankin said that might be blocked by state law, which limits where municipalities can deposit their funds.

Tucson police cited 5 protesters overnight Monday, and 41 over the long weekend for refusing to leave the downtown park, police said..

There have been over 575 arrests since the protest began Oct. 15, police records show. Monday, a city magistrate said he would order protesters with three or more arrests to not return to the park.

Last month, after a lengthy discussion in executive session, the council declined to waive the parks permitting rules or closing times.

City Attorney Mike Rankin told council members Oct. 25 that content-neutral restrictions on the time and place citizens may assemble are constitutional. Waiving the rules for Occupy protesters would open the city to claims by other groups, he said.

Occupy Tucson protesters have been allowed to remain in the parks overnight after being cited for the misdemeanor offense of being in a park after closing time. Each night, police allow those who wish to leave to do so before making arrests and writing tickets.

The protesters face a maximum $1,000 fine for violating the park closing rules, a misdemeanor, but many of those arrested for trespassing at unrelated Tucson demonstrations in the past have seen their charges dismissed.

City Magistrate Anthony Riojas ruled Monday that he will order demonstrators with three or more citations to not return to the park after closing time. Riojas said he will begin reviewing cases for multiple tickets beginning Friday. Lawyers for the protesters said they would appeal the move.

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