ERIN TIERNEY/CHRONICLE PHOTO

It was standing-room only at City Hall on Monday in Creswell as the City Council heard community comments surrounding the Fourth of July parade, conducted without permits. City officials attempted to clarify misinformation about their role in the traditional event.

CRESWELL – It was standing-room only at this week’s first in-person city council meeting since the pandemic, as community members voiced concerns regarding the unauthorized Fourth of July activities in downtown Creswell.

The centerpiece was a parade – organized in part by a member of the Proud Boys – that had nearly 1,000 people swelling busy intersections with cars, trucks, pedestrians, cyclists, horses and parade participants. While police said it did not cause egregious public safety concerns, they acknowledge it also did not follow local laws and permits. 

Now, the City and its police plan to issue citations to parade organizers and participants, some of whom were in the audience on Monday. 

The discussion between residents and city officials focused on two main points:

-Citing people for violating local codes and laws is not a violation of the Bill of Rights.

-The City has never organized or staged the Fourth of July parade.

Creswell residents Stacy Holt and Julie Bivens addressed council at this week’s meeting. They, and several other residents, also wrote to council to express their thoughts. 

Bivens and Holt spoke in support of the parade, citing “media propaganda,” a lack of leadership and a “violation of their right to assemble” as their source of aggravation with the City. 

Bivens has organized the parade for the past two years. Last year, the Chamber did not organize a parade due to Coronavirus restrictions. Bivens instead organized a makeshift “people’s parade” that meandered through the side streets of town and touted political messaging. 

Bivens spoke at the podium on Monday in a QAnon shirt, a discredited conspiracy theory, to “remind the council that people have rights.” Holt said that if police issue citations for the parade, they are “being punished for celebrating America.” 

City manager Michelle Amberg said that parade organizers had the opportunity to comply with city code, but chose not to do so. 

“It is usual for people putting on the parade to have the courtesy to follow the rules and responsibilities of getting a special event permit and following the codes of the community,” Amberg said, noting that last year, Bivens was more communicative with the City, and because the parade was mostly off of Oregon Avenue, a permit was not required. As a result of that compliance and communication, there were no citations issued in 2020 for that parade. 

“The parade organizers didn't follow our procedures this year. When that was offered to them, they didn't follow through, and it was offered to them with enough time for them to respond,” Amberg said. Mayor Amy Knudsen said that “the City would have cooperated with whomever had stepped forward to hold the parade.”

Lane County Sgt. Scott Denham said on Tuesday that he is working on “which direction” the Sheriff’s Office wants to take with these citations. More information will be available “once we’ve completed our investigation and executed any charges as a result.” Denham said last week that he was looking at issuing about half a dozen citations for code violations. 

“What happened this year was unfortunate in that it did violate our codes,” Amberg said. “Part of my job, and directed by the City Charter, is to uphold the codes of this community.”

City Councillor JoeRell Medina, Holt and Bivens said that the City “failed” its citizens when it didn’t step up to organize a parade in the Chamber’s absence. 

“This entire debacle could have been avoided if the City had stepped up when it was clear the community wanted a parade. Instead the City let the unrest fester,” Holt said. 

As for who has traditionally staged the parade, city leaders stressed that local volunteers and more recently the Chamber have run it.

“I know that's disappointing to a lot of people that we couldn't step up and plan a huge event, but the City and the city council has never once planned the parade; the Chamber of Commerce and countless volunteers do that every single year,” Knudsen said.

The parade this year garnered national attention after Chris Tough, a Cottage Grove resident who identified himself as a member of the Proud Boys, helped promote, organize and lead the parade. Tough used a bullhorn to encourage parade-watchers to join a far-right rally just outside city limits on Cloverdale Road. Media was not permitted. 

The Proud Boys have been identified by the FBI for being partly responsible for the domestic terrorist attack on the Nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, and is described by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, as “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration. Some members espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies and/or engage with white supremacist groups.” 

Following local residents riding farm equipment and youngsters riding through town on decorated scooters, the Proud Boys joined in the tail end of the Creswell parade, flashing “white power” hand symbols – a gesture that ADL has listed as a “symbol of hate” on its database for its denotation of “white supremacy.” 

With the law enforcement spotlight on the group since the insurrection, and in reaction to the group’s marginalization on the national stage, the Proud Boys are beginning to focus on “going local,” according to a June 28 NPR report. 

After Creswell, the plan was to visit Cottage Grove.

Last week in Cottage Grove, tensions heightened after the Proud Boys said they would apply to be part of the Bohemia Mining Days parade. The BMD board received 40-55 emails/letters, phone calls, and social media messages demanding boycotts of parade sponsors and participants, and the Proud Boys ultimately decided not to proceed with the application, said Don Williams, board president. 

The Proud Boys’ presence in Creswell caused an outcry among some residents, stating that the City had allowed that group to tarnish its reputation as “The Friendly City.” 

ERIN TIERNEY/CHRONICLE PHOTO

Mayor Amy Knudsen presides over the first in-person meeting of the new Creswell City Council since the November 2020 election.

“After the insurrection, you condone a parade hosted by the Proud Boys. Have you ever heard you are judged by the people you surround yourself with? It's true, and look what you welcomed in your town. Good luck – you opened the door,” said resident Susan Capille, in a letter to council.

Mayor Knudsen explained that the city council has no role in issuing or banning permits. 

“Any permit that comes before the City is reviewed and approved by city staff only – not by city council. Even if a parade permit were submitted, Council could not prevent that from happening,” Knudsen said, adding that “we do not have any jurisdiction over what the content of the parade would be.”

Amberg said the Chamber has plans to stage a parade next year. Councilor Alonzo Costilla said that the City should consider a “backup plan” in case the Chamber of Commerce runs into issues. 

“Whatever happened this Fourth of July needs to not happen again the way that it did,” council president Kevin Prociw said. “I need to understand what it is that we can do as a City, and what's not within our scope … a lot of the heat that we're catching here are for things that really don't fall within the scope of the council.”

Knudsen said it is not their role. “We're not party planners or city event planners. We are city councilors. The city-sponsored events that we had at the airport were put on by our airport manager Shelley Humble and her staff. And that was about all we could do,” she said. 

The Fourth of July will be discussed again at an upcoming work session. The next meeting is Monday, July 26 at 6 p.m. It is open to the public.