City Hall

Suhm's "Very Disappointed" By Turn of Events as Occupy Dallas, City Head Back to Courthouse

Below you'll find the original agreement the city of Dallas and Occupy Dallas entered into last month after that trip to the courthouse that was all fist-bumps and high-fives. Problem is, the agreement is affixed as an exhibit to even more legal docs Occupy Dallas's attorneys took to the courthouse late yesterday -- the protesters' response to the city's response to Occupy Dallas's treatment of the campsite behind City Hall, wherein City Manager Mary Suhm and First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers give the Occupiers till Saturday at 5 p.m. to straighten up or get out. So much for good vibes; the relationship's gone sour.

The Occupiers' attorney, Jonathan Winocour, wants a judge to keep the city from booting the campers come Saturday evening. Says the request for a temporary restraining order, "harm is imminent because the City has unambiguously threatened to take action to forcibly 'evict' Plaintiffs from an area their use of which is effectively licensed through the settlement agreement." Winocour reiterates what Occupy Dallas media contact Michael Prestonise told Unfair Park yesterday, insisting the terms of the city's agreement are "ambiguous."

Winocour tells Unfair Park that "what turned this around was the letter the city decided to release Tuesday night. It was always the understanding of the Occupants that the license the city granted us was to use this public park overnight. They expanded the contours of the ordinance. It was always our understanding that was unrelated to the exercise of First Amendment rights outside the park. So if they're engaging in protest outside Bank of America or Chase, it's protected speech, and the arrests that have taken place at these public protests are entirely unrelated to the occupancy, if you like, or to the physical location behind City Hall -- the camp. The sentiment from the camp is there's an artificial linkage ... to the arrests."

Suhm tells Unfair Park this morning she's "very disappointed" with the turn of events. Far as she's concerned, "We were trying to protect their First Amendment rights and the citizens and the taxpayers, and we were pleased they understood everyone's rights had to be protected." Bowers's letter, she says, was intended to remind the group that "you're not living up to your side of the agreement, and if you want your rights protected, you have to respect everyone else's. I thought they were interested in protecting people rights, and they're not."

For the last few days, there have been rumblings out of City Hall that some council members, and not just Tennell Atkins, want the Occupiers off City Hall property. Suhm would not dispute that: "When people don't abide by the agreement, it makes lots of people unhappy. The agreement's not being adhered to."

Far as Winocour's concerned, till now relations with the city have been OK; he says there have been several back-and-forths with the City Attorney's Office, and that those discussions have been related to the Occupy Dallas camp and its general assembly. Were it not for Saturday's arrests, he believes, Bowers wouldn't have sent that letter, and Occupy Dallas and the city wouldn't be headed back to court, which will happen once the paperwork's been officially processed (which should be later this morning) and a judge can be found to hear the request for a temporary restraining order.

(Update: The hearing has been set for 1 p.m. tomorrow.)

"The city seems to have pushed back in response to that news story, as opposed to quitely coming down and visiting with the Occupants and saying, 'Let's discuss the problems,'" the attorney says. "But instead they sent an unpleasant letter to me and threatened my clients with revocation of this agreement. ... We recognize the city has concerns, and we have concerns too. The original agreement was negotiated in some haste, and it's time for us to sit down together and iron out some of the ambiguities. If we can do that, that would be great. But I don't see that happening. It makes more sense for an impartial third party -- in this case, a Dallas County District judge -- to look at it and see what it means."

But the city's question is: If the terms of the original agreement were so "ambiguous," as the Occupiers now claim, then why did Winocour sign it in the first place?

"I didn't find them particularly ambiguous," says Suhm. "You have to go back to the fundamental concept: They wanted their First Amendment rights protected, but having First Amendment rights doesn't entitle you to other benefits and entitle you to step on other people's toes. The council, the business people downtown, the people working in City Hall, the convention center have all been gracious and understanding of First Amendment rights. But when you get on other people's rights, that's unacceptable. I'm sad. I'm sad that people take advantage."

To which Winocour responds: "The ambiguity arises in its application."

And so, off to court they go again, "and we'll see from there," says Suhm. "When you make a deal with somebody, you assume everyone will live up to their side of the deal. Those weren't horribly arduous terms."

And while we're on the subject of the initial agreement: It says that the Occupiers "shall not interfere with special events," including those at the Dallas Convention Center. Does that include the opening of the taxpayer-funded Omni Hotel tomorrow? Winocour's not sure -- mostly because the protesters don't tell him everything. But as he puts it, it's certainly "more of a legitimate target" than, say, the Veterans Day Parade, which Occupy Dallas vows it will not interfere with. And, returning to his theme of ambiguity, Winocour asks: "Is the opening of a hotel an event?"

Suhm says, again, that the agreement is quite clear about this, and "I assume people are going to do what they say they're going to do. But we prepare in case they don't. We're all aware we have to consider all the alternatives. But I'm assuming they're going to abide their commitments."OD v City

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky