BRADLEY COOK/FLASHBOX STUDIO
Participants in the “protest and parade” on Saturday gather at the staging area at the old chicken processing plant.
CRESWELL – The Fourth of July parade in downtown Creswell continues to spawn controversy and consternation among residents and city leaders. Consider:
– The two main organizers of the parade were cited by the City last week for violating local codes and laws. Julie Bivens of Creswell and Chris Tough of Cottage Grove each received more than $2,500 in citations.
– After speaking at the City-sponsored festivities at Hobby Field Airport on Sunday, July 4, Mayor Amy Knudsen and her husband – while driving home from that event – had an altercation with parade participants who were on horseback, blocking the road.
– A second “parade and protest” was promoted and held on Saturday, July 24, clogging traffic and displaying flags in support of the QAnon conspiracy, the Confederacy, and propaganda about the 2020 presidential election. Organizers and participants, which included Bivens, did not have permits.
– City Councilor JoRell Medina published an online “open letter to the Mayor of Creswell” following Monday night’s council meeting. In the letter, Medina said of City Manager Michelle Amberg: “It is time for disciplinary actions to be taken on the city manager for her handling of this situation. She has shown a lack of respect for the people of this town …” He said her mindset “is dangerous.”
Sgt. Scott Denham of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office explained that some of the actions, while inappropriate and “don’t reflect well on the people participating,” aren’t necessarily violations of the law.
The group from the protest then made its way to the mayor’s house, angered by an incident on July 4 in which the mayor drove down Oregon Avenue and got caught up in the traffic of the illegal parade.
“There were people blocking streets and the flow of traffic and we could not get off Oregon Avenue. My husband honked at people to get out of the way and let us through. There were horses in the parade, but he did not specifically target them and honk at them. A man approached our vehicle on the passenger side, yelling and threatening to kill me,” Knudsen wrote in a post on the City’s Facebook page on Thursday morning.
That altercation triggered a small mob to go to the mayor’s house following the protest, in which she said that Bivens “and several others came to my home … waving flags, chanting, and yelling into a microphone that I was part of the Chinese Communist Party, asking where my flag was, telling me to come collect my check, and demanding to speak with me.”
The small mob in front of the mayor’s house was in a cul-de-sac, which is a gray area when it comes to enforcing codes around traffic and pedestrians in the road. Denham said one of the protesters knocked on the mayor’s front door, calling for her to come outside. That action alone did not constitute harassment or trespassing, he said.
A deputy broke up the gathering and no citations are expected, Denham said.
Asked if she’d seen residents gathering outside elected officials’ homes during her career in Creswell or other cities, Amberg said, “No, not in any of the cities I’ve worked in. Recently, I thought that it had happened in Eugene, and in Springfield, but not here in Creswell or other cities I’ve worked in over the past 30 years.”
Earlier on July 24, roughly two dozen pickups and other trucks made a slow, 20-minute drive down 5th Street and Oregon Avenue, honking horns, waving flags, and clogging intersections shortly after noon. Fewer than 10 spectators were on sidewalks along Oregon Ave.
The vehicular caravan used the abandoned Foster Farms chicken processing plant as a “staging area.” There were no participants on foot or horseback.
According to Denham, the person responsible for the chicken plant had posted barricades and “No Trespass” signs, and filed a trespass letter with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office on Friday.
The Saturday caravan was promoted online via digital and social media sites. A flyer labeled the event “A Prohibited Activity Parade and Protest,” and trucks in the parade carried flags and signs supporting political agendas and false claims of the 2020 presidential election results.
A letter published on an anti-government website stated the parade was formed to protest and defy City leaders and local law enforcement after two citations were issued following the Fourth of July parade in Creswell.
As for the citations that were handed out, Amberg said there is no other redress now outside of the court system, and said she had no option other than to enforce the law.
“It starts off with ordinances that are in the City ordinances, our laws,” she said. “It’s in my job description to uphold the ordinances of the City. I don’t have the choice of not upholding the ordinances when codes get broken. I have to uphold the code.
“I don’t have a lot of discretionary authority in that area. I do it on behalf of the City Council.”
Asked if she or the mayor had the authority to eliminate the fines if they could, she said “no, it’s in the judicial system now.”
Bivens is scheduled to appear in Creswell court on Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. Tough is expected to receive a September court date.
Denham expects Bivens’ court appearance to be brief, unless she negotiates a plea. He and Amberg said they are confident in City Judge Scott Palmer. “I trust the judge, and I believe that he will do what’s right to bring about justice for the citizens of Creswell,” Amberg said. “He’s a very capable man.”
Medina did not return a message from The Chronicle. The city councilor, elected in November 2020 for a four-year term, made several false statements in his online post, and attacked “local papers and news agencies,” too. In defending the lawbreakers, Medina said “they were not looting businesses and burning things down or attacking people as others have.”
Amberg, who moved to Creswell in 2014, said she is unaware of any of those activities in Creswell through the past six years.
City leaders have had to explain the law, structure, and budget issues in response to Medina’s inquiries and statements at Creswell city council meetings – both online and in person during 2021. Creswell makes training sessions available at no cost to councilors via the League of Oregon Cities. Councilors are not required to attend training but are encouraged to do so, Amberg said.
City Recorder Roberta Tharp confirmed that Medina had registered for two training classes since his election, but could not confirm whether he attended or completed them. He was registered for the “Elected Essentials” training session through LOC in November 2020, and also was registered for “Public Comment/Public Hearing” in March 2021.
Videos from the “Elected Essentials” training are at orcities.org/education/training/elected-essentials