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City says Occupy Duluth group can stay -- for now

Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay met with activists Monday afternoon at the Occupy Duluth camp and assured them "there won't be any more surprises" regarding the city's plan for the group as winter settles in.

Saying he felt comfortable speaking to the group in the tarp tent it calls the living room, Ramsay, along with liaison officer Lt. Eric Rish, said there would be open communication and fair warning if the city chose to force the group off the Civic Center Plaza.

But Ramsay did warn the group that it was unlikely the city would continue to allow the use of electricity from its outlets on the plaza, leaving activists wondering what their options are for cooking and heating as cold weather comes.

City administrator Dave Montgomery made a quick appearance before turning things over to the officers. He said there was some miscommunication over the weekend regarding news stories where he was quoted saying an eviction was coming soon.

Montgomery later said there is no timetable for an eviction and talks will continue.

Ramsay apologized for the fear raised over the weekend.

On Friday, Montgomery said the grounds could no longer sustain the group and talks would begin this week on moving the protesters.

The Occupy group hadn't heard of the plans and worried all weekend about police showing up unannounced and forcing them out.

When asked Monday if he would follow the lead of other Occupy cities in either kicking groups off public grounds or severely restricting what they can do there, Montgomery said: "Duluth is a different city," and dialogue would rule. "We're just different people."

Ramsay told the group he is feeling public pressure along with internal pressure at City Hall to do something about the camp.

He praised activists for their peaceful protests the past month at the camp and at Lake Superior Plaza on Lake Avenue.

But coming problems need to be talked about, he said. He told the group that electricity probably will not be an option because of liability concerns. He said there would need to be discussion with fire department officials on what heat sources might be allowed.

The group prepaid in October for planned use of electricity. Ramsay said while that may have been part of the deal when protesters were allowed on the public property, he was under the impression that the area would be used for sleeping only, with protests at the other plaza.

"We didn't plan on a kitchen and family room," Ramsay said.

The electricity use is a "liability" issue for the city, he said.

The Occupy group asked Ramsay to gather information on what could be allowed in the camp. The group will discuss its options, which include new heavy-duty tents and perhaps a bunkhouse-style arrangement for sleeping, at its 7 p.m. general assembly Thursday.

Occupy members said they appreciated the opportunity to talk with the police chief and put fears of being immediately kicked out to rest. They said Duluth was proving to be a model for other cities in the nation simply by having the conversation with police.