Hot dogs ain’t free. Vendor permits in Green Valley Park ain’t free. Speech? Definitely free — so long as you phrase your request to speak freely carefully.
At least, that’s what the folks at the Payson branch of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty have concluded, after a Fourth of July run-in with the Payson bureaucracy.
The two sides still don’t quite agree on the sequence of events for what’s shaping up to be a first-rate teapot tempest.
“The Payson Sons and Daughters of Liberty applied for a permit from the city to pass out the Constitution in the public park on Independence Day and were denied permission to do so by the city of Payson. That’s our position,” said Andy McKinney.
“As best I can tell,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, “nobody applied for a permit. No one talked to anyone in authority. Someone asked one of the people at the front desk if they could set up a booth and hand out fliers — and they told them the booth fee was $200 and they basically walked out.”
Evans said the fee for a booth applies only to people wanting to sell stuff at events like the July 4 fireworks show. Anyone can hand out materials in a public park — and the group could have set up a table and handed out copies of the Constitution without a permit and without paying any fee.
“The issue at hand is free speech,” said Evans — you have that freedom and we encourage people to do that. If they want to set up to sell something, that would be different.”
Someone ought to explain it to the folks at the front desk, said McKinney.
“I don’t think it’s a conspiracy to suppress free speech. I do think they’re confused,” said McKinney.
He offered the following version of events.
About 10 days before the fireworks show, a man from his group walked into the parks and recreation office and asked for permission to set up a booth to hand out copies of the Constitution.
That employee allegedly “told us we couldn’t pass out literature at the park because it would get into the lake and pollute it,” said McKinney.
So the guy went away feeling like his application had been denied, although McKinney said no one actually filled out any application.
McKinney said that on July 4 someone from the group approached a well-dressed park employee and asked if the group could hand out literature in the park. That employee allegedly told the person from the group “that there is a city ordinance that regulates that. He said if they let us do it, they’d have to let the Nazis do it.”
McKinney said the group therefore just handed out several hundred copies of the Constitution at the parade and at a table set up on private property on Main Street.
“We didn’t even go to the park except to get hamburgers,” said McKinney. “We made a good faith effort to comply with the rules of the city and just can’t get a proper answer.”
But Evans said the group apparently just confused the rules that apply to vendors and the rules that would apply to any group distributing information.
“The bottom line is, nobody applied for a permit and nobody denied a permit,” said Evans.
On Thursday, McKinney said Evans called him and apologized for any misunderstanding and promised to make sure that all the town employees answering questions from the public understand that no town ordinance exists that would limit free speech on public property — presumably stilling the sound of the tempesting teapot.
Just as well. Who knows: next step could have been dumping tea bags in the Green Valley Park lakes.