BANGOR, Maine — Occupy Bangor vacated its encampments at Peirce Park and the Bangor Public Library the previous day, but the City Council still held a workshop to discuss ways to better define policy for use of public parks.
Tuesday’s workshop was attended by seven councilors, eight members of the public including some Occupy Bangor members, and several city staff members including City Manager Cathly Conlow, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann, Police Chief Ron Gastia and Parks and Recreation Department Director Tracy Willette.
Heitmann spent 25 minutes outlining the city’s ordinances and policies and finished with a few recommendations, including the establishment of an appeals process for those who have been denied use of the park or who have a grievance with park policy.
“It’s my recommendation that we don’t require users of the park to have permits,” said Heitmann. “And I would ask city staff to do a park and waterfront policy review with less discretion on what constitutes structures.”
Councilor Pat Blanchette endorsed a suggestion that the council hold another workshop after staff members compile options for park policies and then forward the decisions and recommendations to the council’s government operations committee.
Conrad Cook, a homeless man who is an Occupy Bangor member, was invited by Blanchette to speak at the workshop and he took the opportunity to ask what the purpose of a park was, why the parks close at 10 p.m., and why tents can’t remain set up for more than three days.
“They are recreational opportunities for citizens to enjoy on a regular basis,” Willette answered. “And we’ve established park hours to maintain safety and regulate activity in our parks, and tents can damage the grounds, kill grass, and infringe on others’ ability to enjoy the park.”
Cook said he thinks the restrictions “are designed to restrict free speech” and became louder and angrier as he argued that camping at public parks is the only way for his movement to counter the political and monetary influence of corporate America.
“They can have unlimited wealth to fund their message,” he said. “We don’t have unlimited wealth. We can have tents and be out there in the cold weather. That’s how we communicate!”
Heitmann countered that tents are not protected by the First Amendment and free speech does not include camping in a park.
Cook stormed out of the workshop shortly after finishing his statement.