Supporters to reopen Oregon, its businesses and restaurants plan a rally Saturday afternoon at the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens.
According to a Facebook post, the featured speaker at the rally is expected to be Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, who has voiced opposition to the state's extended pandemic health and safety requirements and has urged businesses and restaurants to resume in-person service, but to do so with social distancing in mind.
The Chronicle reached out to Pulliam this week, but as of Friday, we had not received a response from him.
The Chronicle contacted St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh about the city of St. Helens' position concerning the rally.
The Chronicle: Are there any permits required for such an event through the city and if so, have the organizers of this event requested such permits and have the permits been issued?
John Walsh: A special use permit is required for any event on public property where over 50 people will be in attendance; however, Governor Brown’s COVID-19 orders which have been in place for most of last year and have carried over into 2021 do not allow us to issue permits for large events due to the ongoing pandemic.
The event organizers have not reached out to us regarding permitting and no permits have been issued.
The Chronicle: What preparations are being made by St. Helens Police to ensure citizen safety during this event?
Walsh: The St. Helens Police Department has been made aware of the event but organizers have not reached out to the city or the police department to coordinate details. As with any potentially large event that the police are aware of, on-duty officers will monitor the event to ensure it remains peaceful. These events have remained peaceful in St. Helens, and we do not have any reason to believe that this rally will be any different.
The Chronicle: Will police enforce social distancing and mask wearing requirements at this event?
Walsh: The St. Helens Police Department has followed the lead of Oregon State Police regarding enforcement of COVID-19 social distancing and mask wearing requirements. Our focus is on education and voluntarily compliance rather than enforcement.
The Chronicle: What are the fines for not following the state-mandated mask wearing and social distancing requirements?
Walsh: The St. Helens Police Department does not impose fines or issue citations for failure to follow the state guidelines. The State of Oregon has outlined the following process for enforcement of the rules:
It is a Class C misdemeanor to violate the mask, face covering, face shield requirement. The Oregon Health Authority and Local Public Health Authorities can issue civil penalties and take other enforcement actions for violations of the mask, face covering, face shield requirement. An individual or business that has a state issued license, may be subject to a licensing action for violating the mask, face covering, face shield guidance.
All complaints can be directed to Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA): https://osha.oregon.gov/workers/Pages/index.aspx.
The Chronicle: If the organizers of the Saturday Open Oregon rally at St. Helens have not obtained the legally required permits, would this than be considered an illegal gathering and if so, what action would the city and police take to enforce legalities and to ensure public safety?
Walsh: As of right now, we are unable to issue any special use permits due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions in Oregon. The Open Oregon rally has not been permitted through the City of St. Helens.
As with other protests which occurred last year related to the Black Lives Matter movement and counter protests, we acknowledge that people have chosen to exercise their Constitutional right to assemble peaceably. We strongly encourage anyone who chooses to gather in groups to adhere to physical distancing guidelines and wear a face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The St. Helens Police Department has adjusted its staffing levels to ensure that there are adequate officers on duty during this event should any issues arise; however, we anticipate that this rally will remain peaceful as have other protests and rallies which occurred in St. Helens over the past year.
During a media briefing about the pandemic Friday, Jan. 8, Gov. Kate Brown made the following statement concerning the push to reopen.
"I know it's extremely frustrating for restaurant owners, bar owners, recreational facility owners across the state, that's why I was so pleased the Oregon Legislature made a move to set aside some dollars to help these struggling businesses, as well as Congress finally took action after our calls for months and months and months to invest additional resources in programs like PPP, which I hope will go to these businesses which have truly been hard hit by the pandemic and by our efforts to slow the spread of the disease and reduce the transmission of the disease.
In terms of Oregon OSHA, I know Michael and his team have been working very, very hard to work with these business owners across the state. They've had very aggressive efforts, the good news is the vast majority of Oregon businesses are complying w these safety protocol. I'm really grateful for the sacrifices business owners have made and are taking to protect the health and safety of Oregon. Obviously, our hope is we can get community spread down quickly.
We have not yet seen impacts of holidays, particularly New Year's Eve, so we are very concerned about an additional surge and our hospital bed capacity. I'm hoping that the majority of Oregon and our businesses will abide by these safety protocol and do what's right to keep themselves safe, family members safe, and community members safe."
Brown issued the following statement Dec. 31, regarding planned defiance of her executive orders, which she said have reduced the spread of COVID-19 across Oregon.
“Oregon’s health and safety measures are in place to protect Oregonians, save lives, and keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19. Oregonians have made incredible sacrifices throughout this pandemic and, now, many communities across Oregon are reducing the spread of COVID-19 and moving into risk levels that allow restaurants and businesses to reopen to at least some indoor service.
“If businesses reopen too early and instead create new spikes in COVID-19 cases, the actions of a few business owners could set entire communities back and keep them in the Extreme Risk category for even longer.
“It’s unfortunate and irresponsible that some local politicians are choosing to willfully mislead business owners into jeopardizing public health and risking fines, instead of working with their communities to help stop the spread of COVID-19 so that we can reopen businesses, schools, and more quickly return to normal life.
“Let me be clear: Local elected officials do not have the authority under Oregon law to disregard my emergency orders or to authorize anyone else to do so. Any businesses that reopen in violation of state risk level requirements for their county will be subject to fines and enforcement. Undoubtedly, those same local elected officials who are encouraging businesses to fully reopen and flagrantly disregard public health are unlikely to have the backs of businesses when faced with fines and penalties, nor are they likely to be willing to be held responsible for the public health impacts their actions create.
“I am urging all Oregon businesses to put the health of their communities first by following the guidance we have in place for their counties. A large majority of businesses continue to do the right thing to protect their communities. However, when Oregonians don’t take COVID-19 seriously, and don’t take steps to reduce the spread of the disease, they put all of us at risk.
“I have directed Oregon OSHA and the OLCC to deploy all available resources to ensure businesses are in compliance. I expect enforcement agencies to continue to use an education first approach, but Oregonians need to understand that these rules are enforceable under law. For businesses that refuse to comply, OSHA and OLCC staff are empowered to take administrative action including issuing citations, fines, and Red Warning Notices if necessary.
“Oregon has led in our response to COVID-19, and help is on the way for struggling businesses. I proposed new resources for rent relief for businesses in the third special session, and I expect a new round of federal aid to be delivered soon. We can’t waiver in our response to the virus now, when the end is finally in sight and resources are on the way. We are better than this. As we head into the new year, I am asking all Oregonians, yet again, to commit to making smart choices and to take seriously their individual responsibilities during a public health emergency.”