(Editor’s Note: Viewpoint submissions on this and other topics are always welcome as part of our goal to encourage community discussion and exchange of perspectives.)
July 14, 2020 — My first Fourth of July in Florence was 1995. Over the years, the event has grown by way of more participation — musical venues, food vendors — all culminating into a fireworks display over the river celebrating our small community, our freedom and independence as a country.
All of this, of course, was pre COVID-19.
This past Fourth of July, I received a series of phone calls from constituents who were very concerned, alarmed, confused, fearful and angry about a group of people that had set up various presentations in Old Town’s Gazebo Park. But before I address that, I’d need to pull back and say that, for all my years in Florence, most of us live, work and socialize together — and knowing what the other’s political stripes are never mattered. What mattered most was what is best for the community.
That changed during our local 2018 elections. At that point, partisanship became a colossal disruption in our ability to govern or set polices that are representative of the entire community. Instead, a 3-2 mandate has been established through which far-right ideals are governing by proxy — which does not represent all of our constituents.
My hope has been that the upcoming 2020 election would help us return to true non-partisanship.
Apparently, I am mistaken.
Our local government has always been non-partisan and much healthier for it, with the top priority being what is best for the community as a whole rather than individual political stripes. In 2018, Mayor Joe Henry, Geraldine Lucio and Woody Woodbury openly aligned themselves and were supported by members of our far-right community — outspoken pro-Trump supporters on social media and through “Patriot Place,” of which Sherry Harvey was president. Coincidentally, she was also the applicant who coordinated the July 4th activities I mentioned earlier.
We public figures have to look at what we say and do from all sides, and choose what brings people together, brings positive change and supports our community as a whole — regardless of personal political beliefs or alliances.
Our opportunities for economic stability, community improvements in education, jobs, marketing our tourism, updating local building codes, investments into infrastructure and partnering with entities that will help the city reach its goals — including grants and funding sources — are all dependent on the vision and non-partisanship of the Mayor and City Council members.
Speaking in one unified voice is the strongest position in order to enact policy change and attracts partners.
I think we can all admit that, during the past six months of 2020, our country has sailed into uncharted waters stressed by challenges of Black Lives Matter, a COVID-19 virus out of control, displays of political maneuvering from all levels of federal government that range from misleading statements and “facts,” to outright corruption as partisanship agendas ripple through our nation’s leadership.
This is not who we are as a country, nor is it who we are as a small community.
In the middle of Bay Street over the July 4th weekend, Sherry Harvey reserved the Old Town Park location immediately after last year’s Fourth of July. There were three tables set up this year: One to support Dick Anderson, the current mayor of Lincoln City, who is running for the District 5 seat that runs from Tillamook to Coos Bay (what does that have to do with Florence or Lane County?).
The second table was to register to vote, sign a petition to recall Governor Brown and support “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” which is a gun lobby agenda item that, so far, has passed resolutions in 270 counties nationally as the NRA attempts to add laws that will end common sense gun reform items like back-ground checks.
The third table was the most out of place: a pro-life booth of four tables covered with anti-abortion signs, posters planted in the lawn of Gazebo Park, and painted plaster molds illustrating the sizes of a fetus at different stages of gestation.
With all due respect to this very complex issue, it cannot be simplified down to only pro or against abortion.
So why on Bay Street on July 4?
Is this how we welcome visitors, support local businesses and attempt to keep our local economy going?
As a member of local government, we dropped the ball by allowing Sherry Harvey and her group to present themselves in the heart of our Old Town Historic District with far-right political agendas and a misplaced pro-life theme. As a council, we need to introduce new policies when it comes to staking claim on city property solely for political purposes.
It’s worth noting that none of the participants at the July 4th event practiced social distancing and few were wearing masks. This created a dangerous opportunity for spreading the virus within our community as they came into contact with visitors from well beyond the city, county and state.
You don’t need a permit to protest on a street corner, but you do for city property.
There’s a reason for that.
In hindsight, I would have expected this permit to have been withdrawn based on COVID-19 alone and our responsibility as a city to follow the recommended health guidelines in avoiding large gatherings. If nothing else, we need to ask ourselves what impression do we want to make on travelers — and especially families — who come to our community to enjoy time together and away from politics.
To survive and thrive economically as a community, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the level of political partisanship that has taken hold of our decision making at all local levels.
And just as importantly, we need to be honest with ourselves and each other in answering those questions.
[To clarify, these are my personal points of view and not that of the City Council on which I serve.]