Florence City Council responds to heightened concerns

Local Police Chief decries social media postings

June 10, 2020 — The Florence City Council met via teleconference on Monday, June 9, with a full agenda. City leaders attempted to reassure city residents that there is no need for concern regarding community safety on any level.

The city is in the process of improving the video platforms used for council meetings and all councilors were in attendance — and fully visible — during the nearly two-hour long meeting.

Florence Mayor Joe Henry brought the meeting to order and turned to City Manager Erin Reynolds, who welcomed the council and made a short statement to start the evening’s proceedings. Reynolds spoke about the unexpected challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the general unease surrounding a number of recent events.

“On behalf of our city staff and as city manager, I wanted to say a few words in light of the national events and local events, and just the general sentiment that we are all feeling,” Reynolds began. “As we experience these unsettling times, I want to share with the community that I do expect a high level of professionalism of our staff as they interact with all individuals and all groups in our community. We, including myself, are here to humbly serve all members of our community in an outstanding and professional manner. So, I ask as your city manager — as members of the community — please be kind and have grace and patience when interacting with all people. We don’t condone hate and instead promote loving our neighbors and visitors alike.”

Recent concern over inaccurate and deliberately inflammatory social posts prompted another unusual point in the meeting as the council was next addressed by Florence Police Chief Tom Turner, who has been speaking with city staff, local media and council members about an incident that occurred on Bay Street last week — and trying to put the event in proper context. 

According to Turner, Florence police received multiple calls on June 4 that reported an armed individual walking on Bay Street looking for protestors. Florence Police responded and spoke with the man, who then left the area. With Oregon being an open carry state, there were no laws broken and the individual involved was not cited.

However, the incident did alarm a number of residents and business owners, prompting Turner’s public comments on the dangers posed by the inaccurate information posted on social media platforms. In particular, the suggestion that “agitators” from somewhere else were coming to the Oregon Coast to cause trouble.

Turner has been very clear in recent public statements that there is absolutely no validity to those posts, or to the idea that the FPD is not able to deal with the potential dangers presented to residents here.

“The Florence Police department has found nothing credible in these rumors,” Turner stated. “This is a situation where an openly armed citizen on our streets can — and has — caused undue public alarm. This had the potential to create a disastrous situation and accidently escalate a situation beyond anyone’s wishes. And it simply isn’t necessary.”

Turner also spoke briefly about the extensive and ongoing training FPD officers undergo annually, reviewing best practices as determined by the private company LEXIPOL, which Turner stated was the gold standard for police training techniques and more inclusive communication methods.

LEXIPOL provides FPD with many things related to improving and evaluating the performance of first responders, including fire and medical services, and counts heavily on the group’s recommendations to the department when updating necessary procedures.

The statements from Reynolds and Turner then gave way to a more familiar meeting process as City Recorder Kelli Weese walked the council through the public meeting requirements for Resolutions No. 11 and 12, Series 2020, which recommended approval by council to declare and certify the city’s eligibility to receive state-shared revenues.

The council voted unanimously to approve the resolutions.

Resolutions No. 15 and 16, Series 2020, were also approved and extended the City of Florence’s Worker Compensation Insurance coverage to volunteers and set an ad valorem tax rate of $2.86 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The city and the FPD also agreed through a memo of understanding to roll over the current contract between the two entities for a year.

Reynolds and Administrative Services Director Anne Baker then reviewed the measures taken to this point to assure fiscal stability for the city during the COVID-19 pandemic and discussed possible budget scenarios which may need to be adjusted due to changing revenue streams.

The two Action Items on the agenda also passed with full council approval and included the passage of Ordinance No. 7, Series 2020, amending City Code and the regulation of alcoholic beverages on private property open to public use, and an update to an earlier version of the temporary COVID-19 Emergency Declaration.

Public Works Director Mike Miller then asked the council to support expenditures to Schneider Water Services for $45,000 for well repair, $166,735 for Cascade Civil Corporation for installation of a School Pedestrian Crossing and $129,978 for road seal treatments for part of Rhododendron Drive.

The city did make some decisions that did not immediately impact taxpayer dollars, as Turner asked for council approval to accept a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Community Oriented Policing services program. 

Turner said he believes the program has been an unqualified success. 

The council accepted Turner’s recommendation and the $125,000 grant, which will be used to support a School Resource Officer for the Siuslaw School District.

Reynolds ended the meeting by letting the council know that she is planning on taking maternity leave and current City Project Manager Megan Messmer will be the acting city manager during that time. 

Councilor Joshua Greene also brought up the issue of allowing public input as soon as possible during city council meetings, a suggestion that was adopted by the council.

The next Florence City Council meeting is scheduled for July 20, beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit ci.florence.or.us.


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