ERIN TIERNEY / THE CHRONICLE - Town Hall in Creswell

CRESWELL — Eight months later, and it’s still a sore subject.

The topic of the 2021 Fourth of July in Creswell again reared its ugly head at a Town Hall on March 15, as a panelists of city leaders opened the doors of New Hope Baptist Church to the public. 

It was an effort to clear the air in the community, mend fences and encourage future event volunteerism. 

“Time will tell,” if the panelist accomplished what they set out to do, Kevin Prociw, council president and panelist said, but it didn’t come without flak. “We took some heat up there. Most of it, frankly, wasn’t deserved.”

Leaders from the City, Chamber and the Lane County Sheriff’s Office took to the stage of the unassuming parish hall last week to set the record straight on the unfolding of last year’s event—one that spiraled, resulting in fines, municipal court cases and a sorely divided community.

ERIN TIERNEY / THE CHRONICLE - Sgt. Scott Denham speaks as part of the panel at the Town Hall in Creswell.

The meeting revealed that the event also struck a chord with people outside of Creswell, as many of the commenters resided elsewhere in the county.

“The goal of the meeting was to hear from Creswellians, but only a few were in attendance,” mayor Dave Stram said. Of the dozen people who spoke to the panel, only two were from Creswell, and Creswell sergeant Scott Denham counted five Creswell residents in the audience of about 25. 

“I’m not sure what to make of this? A group of people with strong feelings about the Creswell Fourth of July parade who do not actually live in Creswell?,” Stram said.  

The audience came to the town hall to air their grievances for the way the event was—or was not—handled by the City leadership and the police, in addition to their own personal gripes about the pandemic and politics. 

Despite the passing of time since the event, the rawness of emotion was still just as palpable. 

Complicated by a then-disbanded Chamber—the host of the traditional event—the ebbing of Covid restrictions and risk levels, in combination with heightened political tensions, the panel laid out a timeline of events in an effort to debunk misinformation and opinion over facts of what transpired that day.

“The hope was to have a civil and productive community conversation,” Prociw said. The council after the event last year promised its constituents that it’d organize a town hall. While it eventually kept its word, some audience members said it was too little too late. 

ERIN TIERNEY / CHRONICLE PHOTO - Julie Bivens, one of the parade organizers, speaks during the Q&A portion of the Town Hall event on March 15. She said she's racked up over $10,000 in legal fees contesting her $2,500 in fines from not filing a permit for the event.

But the delayed meeting was out of council’s hands, Prociw said. 

“We wanted to keep our promise to hold a town hall … A lot of things happened between the Fourth of July and the evening of the town hall,” Prociw said. “We had a lot of council turnover in a short amount of time.” Council was in stalemate after its mayor and two councilors resigned in the months that followed the event. 

Only now, with a full council, a new mayor presiding since January, could the council make good on that promise, Prociw said.

Moderated by KNND’s Cameron Reiten, the timeline explanation was followed by a Q&A portion from virtual requests and audience members. 

As the meeting went on, tensions flared in the audience, evoking disgruntled murmurs and outbursts. Reiten made attempts to reel in the emotions, limit disruptions and keep the conversations civil, but by the time the panelists got to the forward-looking portion of the meeting, only a handful of audience members remained. 

Most had left after having said their piece, which ranged from their perceived notions of Constitutional violations made by police and city leaders; the discounting of Gov. Kate Brown’s leadership in the pandemic; local leadership’s willingness to follow State order; their objections to the Black Lives Matter movement; mask mandates; to the alleged misconduct of the former mayor. 

The panelists — sgt. Denham, manager Amberg, chamber president Bobby Ladley, mayor Stram and councilors Prociw, Misty Inman, Tammy Schuck, Normajean Osborn, Alonzo Costilla and Shelly Clark — fielded questions, responding when applicable. 

Sgt. Denham firmly reasserted his responsibility to protect the public and uphold the law, Amberg defended her efforts to communicate with and encourage the parade hosts to file for the required permits, and Schuck empathized with the audience members, asking them to be part of the solution by getting involved with local government. 

ERIN TIERNEY / CHRONICLE PHOTO - The Fourth of July Town Hall panelists are, from left: chamber president Bobby Ladley, city manager Michelle Amberg, councilors Misty Inman, Alonzo Costilla, Shelly Clark, Tammy Schuck, mayor Dave Stram, councilor Normajean Osborn, Sgt. Scott Denham, council president Kevin Prociw and KNND owner Cameron Reiten.

“The town hall went about as anticipated,” Amberg said. “We expected that there would be people from outside the City that would be critical.” 

Prociw agreed with the city manager, noting that “While we hoped to hear from residents of Creswell, very few in attendance were from here. However, everybody’s input is important, and we came to listen.”

Whether those efforts made by this committee to mend fences and move forward are proven fruitful is yet to be seen. “There were nuggets and takeaways for everyone, I’m sure. It will take some time to process that,” Prociw said.

What we do know, however, is that there will be Pancakes in the Park this year.

Ladley at the end of the meeting announced that the Chamber is full-steam ahead in organizing the Pancake Breakfast in the Park, a parade to follow and fireworks to conclude the evening — all of the beloved traditional events. The Chamber is seeking volunteers for the Fourth and can be reached at 541-895-4398 and [email protected]  

The meeting can be viewed on the city’s YouTube page.