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Local freedom of speech and privacy advocates at the Partnership for Civil Justice are upset about Mayor Vince Gray‘s testimony that local government has spent $1.6 million on Occupy D.C.

They write in a release, “The Tea Party-backed Congresspeople and the Mayor are promoting a false narrative” and claim that D.C. government has conspired to inflate costs—citing communications between flack Doxie McCoy and reporters that show the estimate rose from $21,000 as of Oct. 19, to $894,000 on Nov. 18, to $1.1 million on Nov. 22 and $1,579,000 on Dec. 1.

Which certainly sounds nuts! And yes, D.C. is definitely playing with numbers—but not the way the PCJ thinks.

Pedro Ribeiro, Gray’s communication director, says the initial low estimates were because reporters were asking about overtime, not total expenditures.

But the critical thing, Ribeiro says, is that the $1.6 million estimate isn’t all on top of normal budgeted expenses. Aside from extra deployments of cops and services on “days of action” like the Jan. 17 protest and other marches over the last four months, much of the $1.6 million is money that D.C. would have spent anyway, even if no one was sleeping in the park. Ribeiro didn’t know exactly how much of that money was from overtime, as opposed to regular expenditures.

So why is that something worth testifying about before Congress?

“The District has no freedom of choice,” Ribeiro says. “We’re not being given the choice of spending $1.6 million.” The mayor’s complaint is that D.C. is being forced to make it work, but unlike other cities, doesn’t have the option of evicting its occupiers. (Something Gray only belatedly decided was a good idea, after supporting the protest initially.)

Which is to say, Gray’s gripes about Occupy D.C. are pretty minor. To keep the park clean and safe, D.C. is relying on built-in flexibility and contingency plans in scheduling by pulling cops off of training or desks and diverting workers to K Street NW. For example, when it comes to trash, “If one crew is diverted, you ask all the other crews to give 25 minutes, 30 minutes each to pitch in,” he says. Eight or nine crews can make up the difference without costing too much in overtime. By juggling shifts and schedules around, he says, the city is tending to Occupy D.C. without cutting services to any other part of the District.

Ribeiro adds, “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to be worrying about this.” Sure, it sounds like a pain. But on this point, the mayor seems to be making a mountain out of a McPherson molehill.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery