War of words erupts over banner slashing

Dispute spills over into Auburn Recreation District board meeting
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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A dispute over a slashed $50 banner advertising the Ain’t Necessarily Dead Music Fest in Auburn spilled over into acrimony at an Auburn Recreation District board meeting Thursday.

During public comment period, Auburn resident Gary Moffat started the meeting off on a positive note. A driving force to complete the project, he thanked the board for contributing to work on Old Town Auburn’s Herschel Young Park rehabilitation efforts.

But then he divulged that he had intentionally damaged a festival sign at the park that had been put up by park board Director Scott Holbrook. The parks district hosts the music festival every summer and Holbrook is a major force in putting it on.

Moffat, a hospitality business owner in Old Town until January, said no permit was issued and the sign was illegally placed on a temporary fence at the park.

“One of your board members put up a banner — came in, must’ve been in the dead of night and installed this banner, which is totally inappropriate,” he said.

Shredding revelation

Then Moffat made a revelation.  

“I took the liberty of reducing it to shreds because there’s no place for advertising banners in a public park,” Moffat said. “If you want to advertise you should spend the money on advertising dollars and not deface a public park with a banner like that.”

For the next 35 minutes, the meeting would revolve around the damaged sign, Moffat’s actions, Holbrook’s account regarding the sign’s placement and a discussion of what and what and where signs can go — with or without permits.

Much of the discussion took place without Moffat. He left after making his comments.

Before leaving, Moffat added that he wanted newspaper vending boxes out of the park too.

“They trash the place,” Moffat said. “I’ve spent almost 2 and a half years on this project and it’s been a long and difficult road … There’s no room for trash like that after we spend 50 grand — and put that crap up on it, I’m sorry.”

Holbrook said that witnesses to Moffat’s mutilation of the sign described his actions as “bizarre.”

“Gary has no authority — he is not code enforcement, he is not law enforcement,” Holbrook said. “If your neighbor puts something up, you don’t like you don’t walk up there in an angry way and slash it.”

$50 request

Holbrook said that Moffat should reimburse the Friend of Auburn Recreation district funding arm for the $50 sign.

“This is vandalism, nothing short of that,” Holbrook said. “He doesn’t determine what’s legal, what’s right or not.”

Holbrook said that the city has always been tolerant of community event signs.

“This isn’t Scott’s barbecue, Scott’s concert hall,” Holbrook said. “This is a community event and we support those things in the community.”

If someone had a problem with the sign, they could have contacted him, using the business card left on the sign, Holbrook said.

Holbrook added that he had asked workers whether he could put the sign on a temporary fence at the park and was given the go-ahead from them.

“If there’s a sign located where it shouldn’t be then you can notify the property authority and that sign can be removed,” Holbrook said. “But to slash it and leave it up there? Anyone who condones that, you come from a different world. Anybody who feels Gary should not reimburse us, I feel for you.”

Holbrook said the sign remained up in its slashed condition until the fence and the shredded sign was ultimately removed after four days.

‘It’s just scary’

“We can’t take the law into our own hands and it’s just scary that people will do that,” Holbrook said.

At that point, the recording shows Director Jim Gray entering the discussion.

“The city says you have to take a permit out to put a sign up,” Gray said. “So you said he took the law into his own hands — those were your words. But you took the law into your own hands by putting the sign up without a permit.”

Holbrook, who had stepped out of his director’s chair, to speak during public comment period, told Gray his comments were out of line.

“Don’t sit here and lecture me on what I can and cannot do, Jim,” Holbrook said. “You’re out of line. I can do whatever I want to.”

That resulted in a rejoinder from Gray to both parties, who said he didn’t agree with Moffat’s act of slashing a sign.

“He should know he can call somebody and the police will probably take it down,” Gray said. “To me as board member, I’m very embarrassed. I have to tolerate Mr. Holbrook and his little childish acts. I’m trying to make this community better and because he’s going to act like a kid and not get his way, he’s going to walk off and throw tantrums. Gary did the same thing but he’s not on this board and it’s public comment and he’s allowed to leave.”

At that point, Parks District General Manager Kahl Muscott provided input on how many signs are put up for the festival yearly — four or five — with Holbrook finding sites and putting some of them up on his own. They’re put in the same places every year and not left up after the event, he said.

Director Mike Lynch, a retired state parks ranger, also weighed in.

“Vandalizing a sign is wrong — it’s a crime,” Lynch said. “In both cases, you’re not operating the way you should.”

Sitting in the audience for another meeting item, Auburn City Councilwoman Cheryl Maki gave a city of Auburn perspective on signage as the public comment period continued.

“I wasn’t going to speak but you kind of dragged me into it,” Maki said.

If a temporary banner for an event is in a right of way or at a public park a sign permit is required, Maki said.


Loose enforcement

But Maki added that enforcement action might not be taken.

“It’s a little loosey-goosey,” she said. “If it’s up for a couple of weeks, code enforcement doesn’t have time to go around saying ‘Hey, take that banner down.’”

Maki described the row embroiling the district sign and Moffat as “unfortunate even though it probably shouldn’t have been hung there” because it had become personal.

“The point is, as a public agency, you’ve got to be careful about where you’re putting your signs,” Maki said.

If the sign-shredding can be proven, the district or the nonprofit the sign was paid for by could file a claim with the police department or take the alleged guilty party to small-claims court, Maki said.

Maki added that “no one’s going to say anything” if a nonprofit posts a temporary sign on a private business or in a private property owner’s yard.

“This was kind of like waving a red flag, I think,” Maki said.

She would add that the dispute was between the two main combatants.

“The whole thing was between you and Gary and it’s unfortunate,” Maki said.