Cedar Falls to vote on ordinance for overnight protests - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Cedar Falls to vote on ordinance for overnight protests on public grounds

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CEDAR FALLS (KWWL) -

An Eastern Iowa community is voting on the future of overnight protests on public grounds. Monday night, the Cedar Falls City Council will put to vote the "special event" ordinance.

An ordinance to regulate overnight protests in public parks was narrowly voted down during its last vote March 12.

The measure is in response to the Occupy Cedar Valley movement. Last fall, the group camped overnight at Overman Park for five weeks.

"They were very decent occupiers. Didn't do any damage, they cleaned up," council member Tom Hagarty said.

When Occupy Cedar Valley decided to occupy Overman Park, the group laid out a code of conduct and stuck to it.

"When we left, it was on pretty good terms. We had talked about possibly coming back, and they said that would be fine," occupier Win Cowger said.

The city council and Cedar Falls police support Occupy's right to peaceful assembly. But according to city code, no one is allowed to camp overnight in any Cedar Falls public park. Which is why city administrators brought up the idea of a "special event" ordinance.

"Our chief of police asked for some type of ordinance in which he could provide, legally, a place where people could come and set up a protest, set up a demonstration," Hagarty said.

The ordinance on the table Monday night would have allowed a group to apply for a permit to spend up to two weeks camping at Gateway Park. Gateway Park was chosen for several reasons -- it's a fair distance from residential neighborhoods, there is a public restroom, and the site is very visible to the public -- right off West 1st Street and Main Street in Cedar Falls.

But as council member Nick Taiber put it -- the location doesn't make a difference. You can't tell a protestor where to protest.

"In fact, you can't use civil disobedience if there's an ordinance in place that allows it. Then it's not really civil disobedience," he said.

"I don't think it's right for them to specify a park we can go to, and say that's where you need to be," Cowger agreed.

The ordinance failed, but barely. The council split three to three with one member absent. And even those who voted "no" did so for different reasons.

"In general, I'm not in favor of any new ordinances, particularly those that seem more knee-jerk and reactionary," Taiber said.

"I hated it last night when it kept coming back to a discussion about Occupy protesters. Period, no I don't want camping in our city parks," Hagarty said.

Even though it was voted down, the ordinance is something the Occupiers are keeping in mind as they plan future demonstrations.

"I'm definitely against infringing upon our rights for freedom of assembly and freedom of speech," Cowger said. "Now that they've put it on the table, obviously that's going to make conversations a little different between us."

Because the ordinance failed on a tie vote, it can be brought back up for a vote at the next city council meeting. Council member Susan DeBuhr said she's sure the issue will come back up for discussion, and she's hopeful it will pass with the full council present.

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