Ten days after the May 1 gun rally at Riverfront Park where gun-toting Proud Boys threatened citizens and journalists with expulsion from the park, city officials keep changing their story about why a permit wasn't required for the rally.
As I said in "Typogate" adds a twist to Proud Boys rally, at first City Councilor Tom Andersen was told that a typo on the city web site caused a page to say that May 1 was the date permits would be required for events in city parks, since a missing "3" would have made the date May 31.
But I pointed out in that blog post that on March 27 the web page had changed from saying "Due to COVID-19, parks and other City facilities are not available for reservation" to "Due to COVID-19, parks and other city facilities are not available for reservation through April 30, 2021. Reservations are being accepted for outdoor events in parks occurring May 1, 2021 or after."
So that did away with the typo excuse, since in addition to saying that reservations were required as of May 1, the page said that the open use/no reservation period ended April 30. Hard to see how someone could accidentally type "April 30" when they meant "May 30."
At yesterday's City Council meeting, Councilor Andersen asked City Manager Steve Powers to discuss the confusion over whether the May 1 Proud Boys gun rally should have been required to have a permit.
I made a transcript of the Andersen-Powers exchange from a video. Here's the transcript. The video follows. I consider Powers's explanation to be weak, bordering on unbelievable, for reasons I'll explain below.
City Councilor Tom Andersen: I want to ask a question, and then I’ll have some comments afterwards, probably a little bit of both.
Director Fernandez specifically referred to the incident that happened on May 1. And I can’t speak for Councilor Nordyke, but that may have something to do with the genesis of her motion.
There’s been some confusion in the community about the date that permits were to be reinstituted.
There was a city web site page that said permits needed to be applied for and would issue on May 1 and after. But I have been told by city staff that permits would take place on May 31 and after.
And that’s created a whole lot of confusion around the May 1 event because there are people who say look at the city web site. It says you’ve got to have permits on May 1.
And there wasn’t a permit for the circus that happened there on May 1. I’d like City Manager Powers, if you would, to respond and then I’ll have some other comments.
City Manager Steve Powers: There never was any intention for permits to start before Memorial Day. That web page, that section of the web page that’s been referred to, it was incorrect and frankly also poorly worded before it was corrected.
But in my update reports to you, available publicly, information that staff would share with people inquiring, to respond to an earlier question, yes, we are getting inquiries, people requesting dates to reserve, and in those conversations with staff and with individuals, it was always no earlier than May 31.
Now I do want to emphasize, no earlier than May 31. Part of the review was certainly based upon feedback from councilors regarding we need to look at resuming permits.
It was also based frankly on the Iron Man being interested in Salem, a significant boost to our community. And it was based upon at that time what seemed to be a positive, in a good way, trend with the disease.
That was before Polk and Marion slipped back into extreme risk, which fortunately we’re now back into high risk. This is still very much a moving target, and I think the key will be that Covid compliance, those safety plans for public events, that will be critical for anyone that is reserving our parks or a portion of a park for a public event.
Andersen: Thank you Mr. City Manager. This just points out to me how unfortunate this was, because staff was operating under the assumption that permits wouldn’t happen until May 31 and beyond, but the web site said May 1.
And there are people in the community rightfully concerned about no permit for what happened on May 1, even though the web site said that.
This is the video I used to make the transcript.
This is my critique of what City Manager Powers said. I'll phrase my criticisms in the form of questions that I'll email to Powers for his response.
(1) You claim there never was any intention for permits to start before Memorial Day, May 31. Yet according to the Internet Archive Way Back Machine, on March 27, 2021 the City of Salem "Reserve a City Facility or Park" web page changed to say that the open use period would end on April 30, with reservations required as of May 1.
Web pages don't change by themselves. Someone edited the page.
I'm assuming this someone received an order to change the page from a supervisor or higher-up. Who issued that order? Knowing this person's name will go a long way toward learning whether there truly was an intention for permits to start before May 31.
(2) You claim that the web page was poorly worded before it was corrected. Comparing the current page and the page as it was from March 27 to April 30, the wording is almost exactly the same aside from the different dates.
What did you mean by "poorly worded"? Also, who is responsible for the content of the "Reserve a City Facility or Park" web page? Obviously this could be the same person I asked the name for in question (1) above.
(3) In your response to Councilor Andersen you seemed to say that city staff responded to inquiries about park reservations by saying the date permits were needed was May 31. Since the city web page said May 1 for over a month, March 27 - April 30, it's hard to believe that no one ever said something like, "I saw on your web site that reservations are needed after May 1."
Are you claiming that no City of Salem employee noticed that the web site said the open use period ended April 30 for the month-plus that language was on the page in question?
(4) Since the supposed May 1 error was on the city web site from March 27 to April 30, who made the decision to change the web page to say "May 31" on the day before the May 1 Proud Boys gun rally?
Hopefully you can understand how suspicious this looks, since social media posts about the upcoming rally were noting the lack of a permit for the rally, given that the city web site was saying that a permit was needed for park events on May 1 and after.
Then, after the May 1 date had been on the city web page for over a month, the date suddenly changes the day before the rally. Knowing who authorized the change to May 31 will help citizens understand why this was done on April 30.
(5) In your response to Councilor Andersen you imply that citizens shouldn't trust what they find on the City of Salem web site, but rather rely on statements you make at City Council meetings. Do you actually believe this?
I ask because few people watch City Council meetings, and even fewer accurately remember what happens at them. By contrast, hugely more people use the City of Salem web site to learn city policies and obtain other useful information.
Yet you made no apology for the web site saying something different from what you reportedly were stating in public meetings.
In fact, your response made it seem as if the web site saying May 1 was something that happened through a random quantum fluctuation or something -- an accident that no one should have taken seriously, since they should listen to what the City Manager says, not what the City of Salem web site states.