City decision forces Territory Days to let in political activists
CSPD makes call during event’s first day after city attorney’s ‘advice’ on Recall Morse group
The 38th annual Territory Days had perfect weather May 25-27, but political storm clouds were brewing.
Festival organizer Jim Wear was clearly upset afterward at a city decision made “on the fly” - around noon Saturday, May 25 - to allow sign-carrying people petitioning for the recall of State Senator John Morse into the event with their signs. “Clearly when the city licenses us [Pro Promotions, his company] to do an event and makes us liable for everything in the event and then tells me when it's underway that the rules have changed, that usurps my authority,” Wear said.
He was not consulted in the decision, he added.
Although no incidents occurred, the activists did not go unnoticed - in fact, he said, some anti-abortion protesters also took advantage of the policy change - and he heard complaints from some vendors and Old Colorado City merchants.
Looking ahead, Wear said he is “very skeptical and fearful” of what it means for the future of the event. “If this becomes precedent that anyone [with a political cause] can come unbridled and uninvited to Territory Days, we're going to see people with petitions and signs every 10 feet. The end result will be that nobody wants to come to Territory Days. They come to it to get away from that.”
After talking to Wear, the Westside Pioneer contacted the city and was informed, in a quote provided by City Attorney Chris Melcher through the City Communications Office, that an unidentified person in the “City Attorney's Office” had offered “advice” after being contacted by an unnamed person in the “Police Department,” and that the ultimate decision was made by “the CSPD special events sergeant.”
Despite a request to City Communications, the Westside Pioneer was not allowed to speak directly with Melcher. The quote was provided from Communications at about 4:20 p.m. May 29 - a date that the Pioneer had identified as its deadline. A call shortly thereafter to the special events sergeant (Rob Kelley) was not returned as of press time.
The Pioneer's initial call had gone to Brianna Goodwin, special events coordinator with the Mayor's Office, a position that was created this year. But she said she was not involved in the petitioner decision and referred the matter to Communications.
Melcher's quote stated that CSPD had asked for city legal advice “because of the conflicting rights involved: the rights of the event organizer to control the activities in the permitted space verses the rights of citizens to petition peacefully on public property. As long as petitioners are not obstructing the right of way or free movement of pedestrians, and as long as they are not disrupting the events or activities, it seemed appropriate to allow the citizens to exercise their right to petition.”
An area event organizer for 20 years (including the last four Territory Days), Wear said he has always kept out political activists, following the belief that an event organizer has the same kind of rights to control activities as the manager of a store. For example, he agreed that festival attendees might not like being accosted by Direct TV salespeople, but at least that company paid to be there.
No government authority had challenged his position on this… until midday Saturday. Already by that point, he had repulsed an effort by recall-Morse people to get inside the event boundaries (Colorado Avenue between 23rd and 27th Streets), and police had backed him up.
But around noon police told him “they just got a call and we have to let these people in,” Wear related.
He said he did not know about the city attorney's involvement until later when the Pioneer found out and asked him for a comment. Wear said he did not want to speculate publicly on what led to the city's decision, but suggested that it's unusual for the city attorney to be called in on a Saturday. “That doesn't happen unless somebody with a lot of juice pulls the trigger,” Wear said.
As for the event itself, he said the calm and sunny weather also drew good crowds, and no incidents were reported. “I heard from vendors and participants that they liked how it went,” Wear said.
He added that there were good crowds for the two nationally charted country rock bands, and he also had heard no complaints about the move of the KidZone rides to 24th Street next to Bancroft Park.
Pro Promotions organizes Territory Days on a contract with the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group.
Westside Pioneer article