St. Helens petition seeks to nix riverfront 'Stonehenge'
A St. Helens business owner says she has collected nearly 60 signatures from residents asking the city to remove Styrofoam stone props recently splayed out at the riverfront in St. Helens.
Patricia Forbes, owner of Artifacts: A Tinker's Marketplace, says she was surprised to open her business last week and find Stonehenge-like props placed in a fenced off area at the riverfront.
The stone-shaped props were acquired last year and used during Spirit of Halloweentown festivities.
St. Helens city officials say the stone props were brought out again in preparation for an upcoming Festival of the Fairies the city is hosting in May.
Much to the chagrin of Forbes, whose business directly overlooks the riverfront, the props will be in the fenced area for at least another month.
"The reason we moved into this building was for that view, and to bring more beautification to that downtown section," Forbes said. "Imagine my complete shock when I reopened last Thursday and I saw that Styrofoam Stonehenge erected right in front of my face."
Forbes initiated a petition, gathered signatures, and started a Facebook page called "Riverfront Development Watch" in response to the city's action. She said complaint forms are also on their way to City Hall.
Forbes and many St. Helens residents say they were unaware of the city's plans for a festival.
"The language is simply a petition against the city of St. Helens for the removal of Styrofoam Stonehenge and the stopping of such like structures to be erected in the future," Forbes said.
Another nearby restaurant owner declined to comment on the riverfront festival decorations, and an adjacent business owner was unavailable for comment.
Details about the fairy festival have been somewhat sparse.
A March 27 post on the Discover Columbia County website indicates the "stone hedge" props will be part of the festivities, which will create a scene of "dragons and fairies flying and resting on arches, a giant magic wishing tree, fire, games, music and more."
Dates for the spring festival have yet to be announced, but John Walsh, city administrator for St. Helens, said the festival will likely open during the first week in May.
"It's kind of all coming together," Walsh noted. "We're still attracting talent and everything. It's something new we're trying this year."
Addressing criticism that the event and its planning, which has cut off access to a portion of the riverfront, was hardly publicized, Walsh said festival planning has been discussed at council meetings.
"It's been in the paper. It's been talked about in our tourism events about doing the festival, not so much the fairies, but doing festivals with the stones," Walsh noted. "We win awards for community engagement and involvement and we still hear people say they don't know what's going on."
Walsh admitted there's been some element of secrecy to certain city events, but indicated part of that is to "protect the events and the performers."
By law, all city expenditures related to public events must be made public.
He said the Festival of the Fairies was pitched "to bring people to the community to support local businesses."
But some business owners, like Forbes, say they had no idea the festival was coming, or that the Styrofoam props would be stored and displayed prominently for weeks prior to the event.
"It's an eyesore," Forbes said of the faux stone display, which is currently enclosed in a fenced area plastered with 'No Trespassing' signs on city property.
Festival of the Fairies is being organized by E2C Productions, an event management company the city contracts with for $120,000 a year. E2C also puts on Spirit of Halloweentown each fall, and now coordinates 13 Nights on the River and the city's Fourth of July celebration.
Walsh said the props are fenced to protect them from vandalism. He noted the fencing and props will be removed after the event, but noted the riverfront area is by no means a fully-fledged public recreation area yet.
Merchant meeting may have violated state law
St. Helens business owners, many of whom operate shops on the riverfront, were invited to a private meeting Tuesday evening, March 27, to talk about issues of importance to them in the city, and give feedback. Members of the general public and the press were strictly prohibited from the event, despite nearly all of the St. Helens City Council being present at various times throughout meeting.
St. Helens Mayor Rick Scholl, Councilor Keith Locke and Councilor Susan Conn were present, alongside Walsh, who gave a presentation during the private meeting. Councilor Ginny Carlson reportedly also attended the meeting.
When confronted about having a council quorum at a private meeting, meeting coordinator Tina Curry, who runs E2C, indicated Locke was on his way out, but Locke did not immediately exit the meeting. Another councilor showed up later during the meeting, making for nearly an entire council present at once, Walsh confirmed.
Walsh adamantly defended the meeting, saying there was no violation of Oregon's public meetings law, which forbids a quorum of a governing body from meeting and conducting business without providing notice or access to the public.
Jack Orchard, an attorney with Ball Janik and legal counsel to the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, said the meeting could be considered a violation of state law.
"If the purpose of the meeting was to inquire about how the City can serve [businesses,] then deliberations toward some City action/decision were occurring," Orchard stated. "Hence, this is a public meeting and the Open Meetings law should be followed."