Soldotna to start park policy review as Pride pushback continues

a group of people sit in a crowded meeting room
Members of the public testify at a July 13 Soldotna City Council meeting. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

The city of Soldotna said it will start a review of its park reservation policies this fall, as opposition to a June Pride Month event continues to dominate public testimony at city council meetings.

That pushback started in June after a conservative Alaska blog posted an eight-second clip of a drag queen dancing on stage at Soldotna Creek Park. The performance was part of a Pride march and celebration from local group Soldotna Pride in the Park.

After the video was posted, the city received a flood of comments from those who took issue with what they said were inappropriate dancing and clothing from the performers. Other commenters and members of the Soldotna City Council said the attendees and performers were protected by their freedom of expression. Still, the city said it would take another look at its decades-old park reservation policies.

At last night’s meeting, City Manager Stephanie Queen said that process will start this fall.

“It’s normal in updating codes, especially something of this gravity, that that’s going to take some time,” Queen said.

But commenters who have testified at all three city council meetings since say they want to see action now. Some asked the city to take a stance against grooming and pedophelia.

Erick Hugarte, a candidate for Soldotna City Council, said he will keep showing up to every meeting until the city does something.

“And one thing you guys gotta remember is that there’s a lot of people in jail who are not happy with what’s going on,” he said. “Those are the people that you should be careful of.”

Hugarte was later escorted by the police chief out of the room. Queen said members of her staff have been getting threats over the issue.

“The lady that waters the flowers was threatened,” she said. “And I just think that we need to maintain decorum so that everybody can participate in this process.”

Queen said she met with the Soldotna Parks and Recreation department earlier this month to outline a process for reviewing park use policies. She said city staff will review the facility use agreement, reexamine the park fee structure and look to other cities’ park policies, among other tasks. And she said any drafted changes made by staff will head to the Soldotna Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, then to the city council, with opportunities for public comment.

Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney said that process takes time.

“There’s no reason for anyone on this council to pass any ordinance that cannot withstand a legal challenge,” he said.

At the meeting last month, Soldotna City Attorney Brooks Chandler cautioned against creating any restrictions that would react to one particular kind of event or censor one type of speech.

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