Our very own Congressman Darrel Issa is currently in a snit, a tift, a rift – over – among other things – damaged sod – with the National Park Service in DC. It seems he doesn’t like the Service’s attitude toward the encampments of the Occupy Washington movement. Issa doesn’t support the Occupy movement and he feels the Park Service has been too liberal with them – and he’s using the power of his panel to do some snooping around. And the Park Service has pushed back.
In the meantime, there is a waiting game going on in DC between the Park Police and the Occupy protesters. There have not been any large-scale arrests such as has gone down at other Occupy campsites around the country. The U.S. Park Police began enforcing a ban on Monday, Jan. 30th, on anyone camping at two parks. Dozens of Occupy protesters took refuge at one park under a huge blue tarp. This all according to CNN .
Noon, Monday had been set last Friday as the deadline for protesters who have occupied the parks for months to remove their camping gear. CNN reported: “Park officials said protesters would be allowed to remain around the clock and keep up tents, so long as one side of each tent remains open at all times, officials said.”
Occupy DC said that as of Monday evening, 50 to 75 protesters were on site, including newbies. One guy had been arrested on Sunday for tearing down Park Service notices on the tents. Police used a Taser on him as he attempted to walk away from them. He fell and was handcuffed. Police say the incident is under review.
This is the context that Issa, our North County Republican, finds the Park Service at fault. Up to now, the Park Service has allowed Occupy demonstrators to remain in the encampments at the parks due to their interpretation that considered the activity a “24-hour vigil.” Back in mid-January, the Park Service Director, one Jonathan Jarvis declared that there is no reason to remove the camps. He said:
“I think if there’s any place in this country, Washington, D.C., is the place where we need to be the most tolerant of individuals that are exercising their First Amendment activities.”
Issa jumped at this and called Jarvis “completely out of line.” He said, “It is not his job to interpret the Constitution over law.”
Issa is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees DC. Issa wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar claiming that the Park Service had been “unresponsive” to the “overwhelming majority” of the committee’s requests for information regarding the ongoing protest at the federally owned park.
The Washington Post reported:
Issa’s committee launched an investigation last month into whether the Occupy protesters are camping on federal parkland illegally and has asked the Park Service for a number of materials, including a written explanation of the difference between a “24-hour vigil” and camping out.
Issa is also seeking records of all communications among the Park Service, the Interior Department and the White House as well as District government and the protesters themselves. The committee also wants to know whether the Park Service plans to stop protesters from camping in the square.
In his letter to Salazar, Issa complained of the damage to part of a $400,000 renovation of McPherson Square, one of the parks where the protesters had camped out since October.
The Post reported:
In a letter to Issa … Peggy O’Dell, the deputy director of operations for the Park Service, wrote that Americans’ right to demonstrate on federal land in the nation’s capital was supported by case law dating back decades.
The Park Service had determined that the group in McPherson has a right to demonstrate without a permit and to erect temporary structures to meet their logistical and supportive needs, she wrote. U.S. Park Police monitor the camps round-the-clock and had made 61 arrests so far, for such offenses as assault, threat and disorderly conduct.
“If the protest continues, NPS will continue to exercise its discretion and take a common sense approach as it works to respect First Amendment rights and enforce NPS rules as well as other laws,” O’Dell wrote.
She also said that of the $400,000 in federal stimulus money that had been used to spruce up the square last year — another of Issa’s concerns — only $8,000 was spent for sod.
“First Amendment activities…often come with a measure of wear and tear on our national parks,” she wrote.