Group calling itself United BG says the city is leaving itself open to a potentially unsafe event
BATTLE GROUND — UPDATE 3/29 — Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman has upheld Patriot Prayer’s permit to use Kiwanis Park on Sunday. Erdman says the city determined the park is large enough to hold the anticipated 100 participants, and more if the event ends up being larger. Gibson has purchased a $2,000,000 insurance policy as well, and promised to leave surrounding roads open for emergency responders if needed.
When there’s a dispute over the usage of a public park in the city of Battle Ground, it’s usually held in a small office on the first floor of city hall. But when it involves the controversy-courting group Patriot Prayer, you’re likely to need a little more room.
That’s why it was a packed house inside the Battle Ground City Council chambers Thursday afternoon, as Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman heard arguments from both sides.
The appeal was filed by a group calling itself United BG, though they listed an address belonging to Southwest Washington Communities United for Change.
“We used SWCUC’s address because we don’t have one, we needed one, and because they help people like us who needed help,” said Meagan Wadleigh, who said she is a 21-year resident of Battle Ground. “We are not Antifa, we are not gun grabbers or communists. We are definitely not from Portland. We are a coalition of Battle Ground mothers and dads who live and raise children here.”
Wadleigh, who refused further comment after the hearing and was ushered out a side door by waiting police officers, started off by addressing the elephant in the room. “(This appeal) has nothing to do with oppressing the applicant’s first amendment rights, so if you’ve come here to see that show you are going to be very disappointed and also maybe a little bored.”
Things were far from boring as members of the crowd muttered their frustration, and one man was escorted from the room after an outburst that only momentarily gave Wadleigh pause.
“It is true that if the park permit in question was for, say, Anderson Dairy’s annual company picnic it probably wouldn’t have attracted our attention as a coalition of concerned citizens,” admitted Wadleigh. “The case for our appeal has to do with the fast-tracking of the permit approval, which was completely unnecessary and circumvented city ordinances that have been established to ensure the public welfare.”
Under city code, park use permits are to be applied for at least 60 days before an event. Erdman said the city does have discretion when it comes to approving permits filed sooner than that.
Wadleigh noted that Gibson and Patriot Prayer have advertised their upcoming event on local radio stations, as well as online. The permit is for up to 100 people, but she said the quick approval means the city hasn’t taken into account how they might handle a number well in excess of that.
“Outside city hall, closer to the police station, could be a more appropriate choice for the proposed high profile political event,” Wadleigh said.
In her comments, Erdman noted that city staff approved the permit after confirming that there was sufficient access for emergency vehicles, should they be needed.
“Battle Ground police will call in applicable support for this event as they have for all previous events,” said Erdman.
In his response, an emotional Gibson blasted the appeal as an attempt to silence him and his group.
“I don’t understand what I’ve said that is so bad. I would like to hear one thing that I’ve ever said,” said Gibson. “All I’ve been trying to do is to fight for this country and to give people a voice.”
Patriot Prayer has held three previous rallies in Battle Ground, along with appearing at city council meetings where they’ve pushed for a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary City ordinance. Gibson has made similar appeals at several other cities in Clark County, where I-1639 was approved by 54 percent last November. Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins has publicly stated that he will uphold the law, which takes effect July 1.
“I applied for this permit out of respect to this city, because this city has been so good to me, and so good to the Patriots,” said Gibson. “I got the insurance out of respect to this city. But the truth is I don’t need a permit.”
Gibson said he and his group will be at Kiwanis Park on Sunday, even if Erdman reaches a decision to revoke the permit.
“We’re still going to be there, and you’re still going to have to bring the same amount of police, OK? And the police are going to have to be there because potentially people from Portland may like to come out here and try to hurt us,” Gibson said.
“We’re deeply disappointed with how the city has handled the permitting process for this event,” said Wadleigh. “In not slowing down to take proper care with this process the city has opened itself up to liability should any incidents, such as property damage or personal injury, occur at the proposed rally.”
Gibson said they’ve held over 30 rallies in Southwest Washington since October, the last time an appearance in Portland turned violent, and all have been largely peaceful. He said he believes that’s because Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has refused to enforce the law, while Clark County law enforcement would arrest people creating a problem.
“Even if you oppose us, show up and have a conversation,” concluded Gibson. “But do not silence us. We will never be silenced. Never.”
Erdman said she expected to issue a decision by noon on Friday.