Soldotna city employees facing threats after park controversy

Soldotna city employees facing threats after park controversy
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 8:04 PM AKDT
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SOLDOTNA, Alaska (KTUU) - Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen has worked for the city for 15 years and said she only experienced threats a handful of times — this summer being one of them.

Following a polarizing performance in a Soldotna city park, city officials are reviewing some sections of code as residents speak out — both in favor and in opposition — to events held at the park.

“Comments for example that there’s targets on people’s back, or that our days are numbered, or that people might have to take matters into their own hands,” Queen said.

Queen said that she, her colleagues who work for the city, and members of the Soldotna City Council have received threats both on the internet and in person.

“I think some of the feedback online and certainly in person has been more targeted and more directed at individuals than I have seen in the past,” Queen said.

This public reaction stems from the city’s decision to review the process for park reservations after a June Pride event sparked controversy throughout Soldotna. Snippets from a drag performance were shared online, which led to passionate conversations throughout the community about what is appropriate to occur in the park.

“In one respect, people wanted to make sure that the performances, that the events, that the use of our public park are appropriate for the community and in line with the communities values,” Queen said

According to Queen, this group had reserved and participated in Pride Month at the park for their Pride in the Park event for several years without issue. The event was advertised and times and locations were shared with the public prior to the event’s occurrence. Soldotna Pride, who held the event, released a statement regarding the controversy.

“Soldotna Pride follows the laws and policies set forth by the government and will continue to do so; that includes the first amendment and policies regarding usage of public spaces,” the statement said.

According to Queen, the video sparked lively conversations on both ends of the spectrum. During the July city council meeting, she said she saw the most participation at any council meeting ever. In addition to people disputing the drag performance, Queen recalled many other community members who supported the event.

“We received quite a bit of feedback about keeping that space free as a free speech space for all so protecting the rights of our diverse community to use that space in the way that they see fit,” Queen said.

Due to the high volume of interest, Queen decided to review the application process. During Queen’s review, she discovered some municipal codes that had not been touched since the 1970s.

“Given the change in this park’s use, how popular it has become, it makes sense to do kind of a complete review,” Queen said. ”I think it is time, it is prudent to step back and take a look at all the materials, all the guiding documents, and just revisit them to make sure they still meeting the communities needs.”

Queen said this process will start in early Fall and can take several months to be completed. However, the long wait time for the application review process has drawn both complaints and threats from the community.

“When I use the word threat, I am responding in somewhat to language from folks who are expecting action,” Queen said.

Queen said that this updated application will work to make sure that the applicants meet the city’s current needs. She said that the plan is to make sure the park is available to anybody to use.

“Our council is really supportive and our mayor has spoken out about keeping our public spaces inclusive and open for all, so I don’t foresee a process where we are going to be looking to be overly restrictive,” Queen said. “It’s not my intent, I don’t believe it is the council’s intent to try and eliminate an event like that from ever happening again.”