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Commissioners Voted On Kicking People Off County Property

On Dec. 15, the Lane County Board of Commissioners quietly voted on an ordinance that made an already ambiguous policy about who has the right to be on county property even more problematic.

Under Chapter 6 of the Lane County Code, “a duly authorized officer,” who could be a board member, the county administrator or “any person delegated the authority to control county property” by those people — and the delegation of authority does need not be in writing — can trespass someone from county property. 

Commissioner Pete Sorenson, who was the lone vote against the change to the ordinance, says the events in the Malheur have caused him to think even more about the issue of protected speech versus civil versus criminal disobedience.

He says, “The reason I voted no on adopting this is the board or administrator or anybody can be delegated to kick somebody off of property and doesn’t have to be in writing, and it is not limited to the reasons the county said it needed it for, like the courthouse or Juvenile Justice Building. It’s on all county-owned property.”

He calls the code on the issue too big and too broad. “It allows anybody who can claim to have the power of the Board of Commissioners to kick anybody off the premises.”

Under the ordinance that was already in place, it is assumed someone is acting unlawfully if they simply refuse to say why they are there. 

County property under the ordinance includes “county roads, county-owned parks and parking lots, the County Courthouse, the Juvenile Court Center, the County Fairgrounds and Extension Building, and Willamalane Park and Recreation District roads, parks, parking lots and buildings.”

County spokesperson Devon Ashbridge says of the changes: “This ordinance simply aligns written policy with current practice by defining a ‘duly authorized officer’ for the purpose of determining who has authority under Oregon law to order an individual to leave property or make a request to law enforcement to do so.” 

The issue of changing the code arose in early December, and Sorenson called for time to give the public a chance to weigh in on the code. Ten days later, Eugene attorney Brian Michaels was one of two people to come to the Dec. 15 board meeting to give public comment on the ordinance. 

Michaels says that the amendment being considered was “ridiculous but the ordinance already in place for decades was ridiculous in itself.”

Michaels attended the meeting because his client, former Eugene activist Alley Valkyrie, had been involved in an incident in which County Counsel Stephen Dingle attempted to ban her from the Lane County Public Services Building, which is also the location of Eugene City Council meetings and offices. 

Valkyrie had been part of a protest in 2012 and 2013 in which homeless residents and homeless advocates set up a camp in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. Then-county administrator Liane (Richardson) Inkster ordered the plaza to be closed, causing an outcry from protesters who use the plaza. 

Dingle and Inkster tried to exclude Valkyrie from the county building after she was charged, but not convicted, of trespassing in the protest events. They threatened to have her arrested if she came to the county courthouse, Michaels says, but “Dingle didn’t have the authority.” Despite Dingle’s threats of arrest, Valkyrie repeatedly entered the building for public meetings.

Michaels says that Dingle essentially tried to ban Valkyrie from the building because of her political speech. 

Michaels says that at the December meeting, while pushing for the change in the ordinance, Dingle made repeated references to a “release agreement” with Valkyrie as the pretext for the threats to arrest her. Release agreements give conditions for someone’s activities after they have been released from jail.

Valkyrie says, “I was never at any time prohibited by any court agreement from being on the courthouse property.”

Dingle “never said anything to me or Alley about a release agreement,” Michaels adds, calling it a “complete lie.”

He says of Dingle, “Seems to me that they have a legal counsel that’s willing to lie to them.”

Dingle did not wish to respond to Michaels’ allegations that he fabricated his statements.

In an email to the commissioners, Michaels writes, “Ask yourselves this: If Ms. Valkyrie was
 not threatened with arrest because of some release agreement, then because of what?”

Valkyrie tells EW that the ordinance is being used to deny people in Lane County their constitutional rights.