Reprinted from Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- After denying that they are coordinating responses to Occupy Wall Street, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recently surveyed city administrations across the country about the movement.
In late November, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the District of Columbia mayor's office received a request to update its answers to the survey. The questions to city officials appeared to elicit profiles of Occupy activists and answers that could help show the activists as a drain on resources.
The mayor's conference asked via the emailed survey: What are the estimated Occupy-related costs? What are the major issues relating to Occupy events? Has the Occupy membership changed and if so "describe those involved in the movement how they've changed in terms of who they are and what their intentions for the demonstrations are."
In the survey, the organization also called on city administrations to share tactics. "Please describe any strategies or tactics your city is employing in responding to Occupy-related events, including an assessment of their effectiveness if possible."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has quietly led efforts to coordinate city responses to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the records show. These documents -- which comprise emails to local D.C. officials -- appear to contradict previous statements in which mayors denied any sort of group strategy sessions.
In early November, Oakland's Mayor Jean Quan created a firestorm after admitting in an interview that she had participated in one of the group's conference calls on Occupy. The call, she said, included 18 other cities. As one city encampment after another was razed on similar pretexts, activists charged that Quan and other big city mayors were colluding against them.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, has obtained her own set of conference-call related documents and says the mayors' conference is an active participant in setting the stage for the camp raids. "These are sessions that were intended in assisting cities in creating the public pretext for the eviction of the encampments," Verheyden-Hilliard said. "I think they tried to play a fairly covert role in what was an extremely significant nationally coordinated effort to shut down the occupations."
The participating mayors downplayed the calls as "general information sharing." After the news of the Quan call broke, a spokesperson for Portland Mayor Sam Adams described one call as a mere "therapy session" during an interview with MSNBC.
But in promotional letters and emails obtained by HuffPost, the Conference of Mayors pitched the calls as far more substantial.
In a Nov. 10 email, Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director for the conference, hyped a follow-up conference call led by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Cochran wrote that the call "will enable more mayors and police chiefs from across the country to participate in the discussion, sharing information about the situation in their cities, their concerns, and the strategies that are working."
Cochran went to write that regular Occupy-themed conference calls were being arranged. "We also agreed that the Conference of Mayors will host regular conference calls of mayors and police chiefs on the impact of the Occupy Movement in cities for as long as we need to," he wrote.
In his own letter outlining an upcoming session, Mayor Nutter wrote on Nov. 8 that the discussion would "cover what has been happening in cities, costs incurred, issues that have arisen, and strategies being employed to respond. It will also provide an opportunity to discuss what cities can expect in the future, and the best ways to minimize any problems."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors refused comment and deferred all questions to its participating mayors.
Nutter's office did not respond to a request seeking comment.
Pedro Ribeiro, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's communications director, said he remembers city police officials and representatives from the Office of the Attorney General participating in one call in mid-November. Emails show Attorney General Irvine Nathan was on one call with Nutter.
D.C. Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump told HuffPost that Chief Cathy Lanier "participated in many calls about this issue."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors may not have just been assisting with strategies, but may have also been seeking to compile evidence for the argument that Occupy cost cities. During the back and forth over the survey questions with D.C., Occupy-related costs rose dramatically. As Verheyden-Hilliard pointed out in a piece on her organization's website: "The Mayor's Office's cost estimates rose from $21,000 (as of 10/19) on November 15, to $894,000 on November 18 to $1.1 million in MPD costs on November 22 to $1,579,000 on December 1."
Verheyden-Hilliard says the D.C. numbers are bogus. "These are not real numbers," she tells Huff Post. "These are numbers that are being created because they want to dramatize the cost to D.C."
Ribeiro blames the steep cost increase on confusion over what was an Occupy cost versus what was a non-Occupy cost. "The MPD wasn't giving the full tally," he says.
In a Nov. 15 email to the Associated Press obtained through the FOIA request, Gray spokesperson Doxie McCoy wrote that the Occupy costs came to $21,000 as of Oct. 19, with less than $1,000 spent on police overtime. But even that number may have been high. It was difficult to tell what was Occupy-related expenses and what were normal city expenses such as trash pick up and traffic control.
Of the $21,000, McCoy wrote: "These are not additional costs because city agencies are performing normal daily duties."
Crump repeated this sentiment to an Examiner reporter, the FOIA documents showed. "The majority of the costs are budgeted in the local budget," she emailed. "The overtime costs are manageable, at this time."
A week after the D.C. mayor's office received the conference's survey, the group emailed Gray's office again. They'd received the survey answers. But they had one problem. "With calculus you gave us, DC through MPD has spent about $65,000 since demonstrations began Oct. 6," wrote Laura DeKoven Waxman, the conference's director of public safety. "That seems low to me, so wanted to make sure it's correct."
D.C. government then coughed up the bigger $1.6 million cost figure. The jump did not produce any skepticism from Waxman. "I'll make sure to replace DC's previous responses," she wrote in an email to the mayor's office and Chief Lanier. "This will be especially helpful as we try to show what the Occupy Movement is costing cities."