It’s not often a declaration during public testimony shocks the members of the Keizer City Council, but members of the Southeast Keizer Neighborhood Association (SEKNA) pulled out a doozy on Monday, May 6.
Joe Tillman, SEKNA’s messenger and a volunteer in city committees, read a brief statement that left no room for interpretation: “Due to the blatant disregard of the concerns of residents and businesses, KeizerFEST is no longer welcome in the neighborhood. We really thought this would be a wonderful thing and it has been less than so.”
Tillman told the council that a vote was taken at the last meeting of SEKNA and it was unanimously decided to deliver the message to the council. When asked how many members of SEKNA attended the last meeting, Tillman said four, until he was corrected by a member of the audience that there were actually five members in attendance the night the vote was taken.
Sherrie Gottfried, an employee of The Grass Hut II, was the audience member who offered the correction. The Grass Hut has had longstanding disputes with the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, the organizer of KeizerFEST, over the closure of roads leading to their business during the annual event. KeizerFEST headquarters are located at the Keizer Lions Club property which sits cater-corner to Grass Hut II.
At an April meeting of the Keizer City Council, Gottfried presented information to the council about lost business and concerns over disability parking. She said that the given reasons for closing the street, for safety and ADA parking, did not comport with what happened in the space. Closing the street led to accidents and near-misses and there were never any signs put in place to delineate where handicapped parking was available.
Moreover, Gottfried’s documents show Grass Hut II lost about a third of its regular foot traffic during KeizerFEST weekend and about 20 percent of its expected revenue.
KeizerFEST organizers plan to reduce the size of the closure this year and that appeared to alleviate some of Gottfried’s concerns until the SEKNA vote was presented to the council.
Council members appeared stunned by the announcement that KeizerFEST wasn’t welcome, but Councilor Marlene Parsons leapt to the defense of the Keizer Chamber and chided SEKNA for representing the vote as having more weight than the five people who attended its most recent meeting.
“The Chamber has worked with businesses to get a positive result. I think what needs to happen is a conversation with all 37,000 residents of Keizer. I think that needs to happen with the citizens and you guys in the forefront of that,” Parsons said.
“I know that they are working hard to please everybody and every neighbor,” added Mayor Cathy Clark.