Occupy Darien set to begin Wednesday

DARIEN -- Police say the planned Occupy Darien demonstration at Tilley Pond Park on Wednesday and Thursday will cost town taxpayers more than $10,000 in police overtime.

Darien patrol Capt. Fred Komm said the department is increasing its staffing levels "considerably" to handle a possible influx of protesters involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement that took over a lower Manhattan park for more than two months before police enforced an order preventing them from camping overnight.

"These officers will be assigned exclusively to the Occupy Darien event. There are several unknowns as we don't know how many people will be attending. We plan for a worst-case scenario in terms of numbers of people and remain prepared for that circumstance," Komm said.

City workers have put up no-parking signs along Leroy Avenue and in other nearby locations and the town is encouraging participants to come to Darien by train because parking will be "very" limited, Komm said.

Some roads such as Lakeside Avenue, which runs directly along the west side of Tilley Pond, will be closed. The Darien parks department issued a permit for the event specifying the park could be used from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Acting First Selectman David Campbell said he did not know if 10 people, 100 people or more would be showing up.

Despite the cost for police, he said, "We have to make sure everybody is safe and sound, so we have to do what we have to do."

Campbell, who will visit Tilley Pond around 11 a.m. Wednesday, said it was important to allow people to have their say without any trouble.

"I hope everyone enjoys themselves and gets to express their feelings safely," he said.

Organizer and Darien resident Margaret Rague, a naturopathic physician and business attorney who was arrested earlier this month after an alleged disturbance on the Post Road, said Tuesday that the event is intended to be a "peaceful demonstration to highlight the serious economic challenge and huge wealth and opportunity gaps that exist in the United States and the world."

She said she hopes that through messages presented by the speakers at the two-day rally at the downtown park and exchanges between residents and demonstrators, constructive changes will emerge to combat economic disparity.

"We anticipate a very strong showing, including protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement," she said.

Darien First Selectwoman Jayme Stevenson, who left the country Tuesday for a long-planned holiday vacation with her five kids, said in an email message that the town has been very accommodating to Rague.

"I have personally met with her three times. We are doing everything in our power to ensure she is free to exercise her First Amendment rights while preparing our town for visitors," Stevenson said.

Stevenson said if she were in town, she would "certainly" attend.

"I believe in our constitutional freedoms and a positive exchange of ideas. Darien is a very benevolent and hard-working community. I'm sure any guests will find this to be true," she said.

Representative Town Meeting member Jim Cameron said he was concerned about how much money the event will cost Darien taxpayers.

"It is a lot of money in a town that has traditionally been very careful in its spending," he said.

Cameron said he did not expect that the protesters will cause problems downtown.

"I am probably of the mind that it won't be much of an event. I don't think it has been terribly well organized or publicized," Cameron said. "If people want to come up to Darien from wherever on the train and talk or whatever, that is their constitutional right, and I'm glad the police department will do whatever they have to do to maintain order."

Cameron said Rague's arrest should not reflect negatively on the Occupy Darien event.

Rague, 61, was arrested earlier this month in Darien when police said they received several calls about a woman walking and hitchhiking on the Post Road.

Rague was charged with second-degree breach of peace, interfering with police, creating a public disturbance, disorderly conduct and walking on a road while intoxicated.

She appeared at state Superior Court in Stamford last week and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to the event's Facebook page, former Green Party candidate for Stamford mayor, state senate and state representative Rolf Maurer and David Bedell, vice president of Teachers Against Prejudice, will speak at the event.

With a median family income of $227,000, Darien, which is home to many corporate leaders and those in the banking industry, was rated ninth by CNN Money's list of top earning towns this year. Neighboring New Canaan placed eighth on the same list with a median family income of $232,000.

No tents, camping or fires will be allowed in the park, which is just across West Avenue from the train station.

Komm said the event will end at 5 p.m. on both days.

Staff writer John Nickerson can be reached at 203-964-2320 or john.nickerson@scni.com.