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Richmond Wrangles With Protest Costs

Tea party groups and the Occupy movement are squaring off in Richmond, Va., over the costs associated with their respective protests.

The Richmond Tea Party has accused the city’s Democratic mayor of favoring the local Occupy protest movement, which hasn’t paid a dime for the cleanup and security costs associated with its two-week stay in Richmond’s Kanawha Plaza.

Tea partyers said they have spent nearly $10,000 on permits and fees over the past three years to host rallies on that very spot. They are demanding a refund, saying they have had to pay simply for following the rules.

“The law is not being applied equally,” Colleen Owens, the tea party’s spokeswoman, said in an interview.

The issue comes down to a distinction between the two events. The tea party rallies included a stage and resembled special events, which require a permit and money. But the Occupy activists gathered in the park without special equipment, and they broke the law by camping there overnight.

William Carino, one of 50 Occupy Richmond activists who was forcibly removed from the park earlier this month, said the tea party is “comparing apples and oranges.”

“If it was a matter of them being charged to just show up and have a rally, then yes, that’s wrong,” he said. “But their rally was like a small festival.”

Tea partyers see the matter as Mayor Dwight Jones supporting one movement over the other. Jones met with the Occupy activists, while he has not done so with the tea party group.

But Carino said the mayor is “very much against” the Occupy efforts, which have made the mayor a target. After being kicked out of the plaza, the activists shifted to private property next door to Jones’ house.

“He claims he is on our side, then he sent 100-plus police officers after us,” Carino said of the eviction from the plaza.

Since complaining about the costs, the Richmond Tea Party has received notice that it is being audited. Owens said that further demonstrates Jones is taking sides against the tea party.

The mayor’s office called the audit “routine business” and said the Richmond Tea Party is one of 700 businesses being audited for failing to file appropriate paperwork.

“It’s certainly not any targeted activity,” Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, told Roll Call. She added that while the timing of the audit was “unfortunate,” the city’s finance department was unaware of the Richmond Tea Party’s complaints against the city.

Hawley denied that the Occupy protesters received support from the city and said any delay in evicting them was simply to avoid a violent altercation.

She added that it would be difficult to charge the Occupy protesters for what they cost the city, since the movement has no formal group.

Owens said her tea party group would be satisfied if the mayor paid the city for those costs instead. The tea party has consulted a lawyer, but Owens added that the group does not plan to cost the taxpayers more money with an expensive lawsuit.

“That’s something that we would try to avoid,” Owens said.

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