On Nov 22, 2011 the Associated Press provided a report noting that the cost of Occupy protests in 18 cities has come to a total of $13 million in the first 2 months of the existence of the protests. Other sources have created lists since that time which place the total above $19 million for 29 cities (based on and linked to news reports). Which made us wonder what is the cost of Occupy Binghamton?
Unlike the Tea Party, which has followed the law in setting up rallies and meetings, Occupy Binghamton has taken over City of Binghamton property without regard to City ordinances. As we noted on November 22, 2011, Occupy Binghamton is in violation of at least 3 City of Binghamton ordinances. Which we specualted could leave the City of Binghamton, and therefore taxpayers, at risk from lawsuits plus any cost of the ongoing protest.
We further specualted the position of both the City Council and the Office of the Mayor if any other group decided to camp out on City property. Our example was a group of homeless taking over another City park, and putting up a single sign which is political in nature. Would they get the same treatment as Occupy Binghamton? Is there any limit on who may or may not claim City propert as their own residence? How much risk is the City willing to accept in violation of City ordinances, to allow the self-interests of a minority of the population to be forced onto the rest of the residents?
To that end, we asked the Office of Mayor Matt Ryan specific questions:
1) What is the current known cost of the Occupy Binghamton protest? This would include costs to Binghamton Police Department, as well as any other City division or program.
2) How many complaints have there been against Occupy Binghamton?
3) If several other city parks were to be filled with tents, by homeless persons as an example, would the city equally allow them to stay on that land? If they had political signs, would that make it different?
Given the Thanksgiving holiday, we expected a delay in response. We received the response from the Office of the Mayor today. The response is as follows to each of our questions:
To question 1:
In terms of Occupy Binghamton, the City fortunately has not incurred any associated costs to date. We do expect some repairs will be necessary to the sod in the green space where the activities are happening, but the participants in Occupy Binghamton have pledged to make the necessary payments.
To question 2:
In terms of the number of complaints the City has received about Occupy Binghamton, they number about 30, although the number of people from we have received them is fewer, as several individuals conveyed their concerns more than once. Incidentally, the City also received about the same number of calls/emails from constituents who supported our approach to Occupy Binghamton.
To question 3:
In terms of City ordinances, we did not require a permit as there were no issues pertaining to safety, sanitation or access. When we learned about particular issues, we asked the participants to address them, and they were very cooperative. For example, when we learned that the participants were playing music until the State Street bars closed, we asked that they limit it to 5:30pm—9:30pm, and they complied.
Many have asked whether the City is approaching Occupy Binghamton in this fashion simply because the Mayor supports their message, but in fact we would take the same approach to any activities operating under the same conditions.
We thank the Office of Mayor Matt Ryan for the response. But that does not really answer any of the questions.
We dispute the statement that no cost has been incurred todate as a cause of Occupy Binghamton. On the very first day of the protest, police officers were sent to observe the protest starting at 12 noon. Since that time there have been police officers observing the protestors on occasion. In addition there must have been other departments that sent workers to review the protest in regard to City Ordinances, like sanitation. All of this is a cost and seperate than normal dail expenditures. Just like what the cost of new sod will be (sod, workers, upkeep, review of the area to get an estimate, ect).
Seperate of that, Occupy Binghamton is not a corporation. There is no leader nor group funding. Just because 1 person in the protests says they will pay for costs to renovate the space they have taken, it does not guarantee funds. Nor that this individual will comply with their stated promise, even to have the funds available to do so. It is in essence an empty promise backed by nothing more than the faith in the collective will of the participants – which cannot be assured.
The Office of the Mayor offered no figures, so we will assume that they beilieve the cost is minimal, but there is a cost. Taxpayers deserve to know what is that cost, espcially if Occupy Binghamton is not paying for the use of City property – therefore pushing the cost onto taxpayers.
As for the 3rd question, Again we dispute the statement of the Mayor’s Office that “were no issues pertaining to safety, sanitation or access.” As we noted prior, there are at least 3 City of Binghamton Ordinances that are being actively violated. The issue to safety is directly in question as there is no bond or insurance in placefor Occupy Binghamton. This means that if anyone were to be injured (there have been incidents – even alleged rape and violence – at other Occupy locations) the City of Binghamton (ie taxpayers) will be liable. Sanitation was initially an issue as there was nothing originally planned for restrooms, and showers still do not exist.
Cooperation does NOT absolve violations of law. You can be exceptionally polite when police arrest you for drunk driving, but you still are arrested. Common courtesy does not involve the aggressive act of taking over property belonging to someone else, which implies the purpose of disruption to gain attention.
Plus they are violating further ordinances of the City, ie the music playing and whatever else was asked by the Office of the Mayor. The Office of the Mayor did not note if tickets were issued for that. We are clearly aware that many of the businesses in Downtown Binghamton, and across the city, will be and have been fined for violating that music ordinance in the past. What makes Occupy Binghamton different?
Lastly, and perhaps most important is the view of the Office of the Mayor in regard to ANY group of people doing exactly what Occupy Binghamton is doing.
According to the Office of the Mayor, our example of homeless taking over city parks is fairgame. In fact anyone could violate City of Binghamton Ordinances, as long as they have a sign and mention a political grievance – no matter how absurd it may be. Therefore, if X number of people wanted to park on City property, say City Hall, with a sign saying that the Government should reveal the facts about … say aliens and Area 51… then they could do so for an unlimited time.
In fact, according to the actions and statements from the Mayor’s Office, if someone were to do so and the police were to follow the law and disperse them or arrest them, then the City of Binghamton would be open to a massive lawsuit – to be paid by taxpayers. While we do not encourage this, that is what the result is.
We respect the intent of the Office of the Mayor, but we still request the actual costs of Occupy Binghamton. We still see and believe the Occupy Binghamton protest is an exposure to lawsuit that directly violates City ordinances and being protected for political reasons. We believe that taxpayers deserve to know the facts and figures, and that even those that have favorable political positions will not be held above the law.
As for the City Council (whom we also sought a response from), we are still awaiting a response on their implicit or explicit approval of Occupy Binghamton.
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