January 15, 2016, Press Release-Harney County Fairgrounds
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 15, 2016
Recently, the group occupying the buildings at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge stated they intended to have a meeting with the local community at the Harney County Fairgrounds to discuss their terms for leaving the Refuge. While Harney County appreciates the Bundy’s decision to leave, the failure to make arrangements for use of the Fairgrounds without first following the Fair Board’s procedure left Harney County in a position of having to respond.
While the Fairgrounds are owned by Harney County, it is managed by the Fair Board who have established policies for use of the facilities. There are specific policies adopted by the Fair Board in order to maintain and manage the facility. In this case Mr. Bundy simply did not make an effort to follow these procedures.
When an attorney representing the Committee of Safety called to discuss why the Fairground facilities were not available for Mr. Bundy’s presentation, he was advised that there was a rental permitting process required for use of the facility. He was also advised of the process. These processes have been in place for some time and are there to manage the facilities in an orderly manner and to protect the public’s investment.
In protecting that investment the County has publically stated it would not allow the facility to be used by those who are committing criminal activities. It did this to protect both the facility and the public.
While there are those who have described this position as a violation of constitutional rights of free speech, the free speech provision of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not guarantee access to property for speech activities simply because the property is government-owned. Further, it does not require access be at no charge or without conditions to maintain and protect the government facilities. Likewise, it is also not a constitutional violation to discourage parties actively engaged in criminal activities from using the facility to further that activity.
Given the recent activities at the Malheur Refuge by the Bundys and the armed presence throughout the community by various groups, it is Harney County’s intent to provide the delicate balance in recognizing the public’s free speech be protected while at the same time protecting the public and the public facilities.