Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 29th, 2019 at 10:37 am
A man named Patrick Cashman has a bone to pick with Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride, the 9,000-rider strong annual event which will embark from Laurelhurst Park on June 29th.
Cashman has been on a personal crusade since late last year to hold ride organizers accountable to the letter of the law and to force the City of Portland to reveal the ride’s route.
“This information was developed in coordination with a small group of private citizens who are allowed to know this information while other private citizens are denied it.”
— Patrick Cashman
Back in November, Cashman penned an op-ed in The Oregonian urging others to join his demands to know the route of the popular ride. Cashman has also posted his concerns on Nextdoor. Between January and April of this year, he filed six separate public records requests with the City of Portland.
So far, he’s been denied each time.
The City has acknowledged that they’ve worked with Naked Bike Ride organizers, but they say a desire for public safety makes details of the route exempt from public records laws.
In the past five years the ride has averaged about 9,000 riders. It’s a massive undertaking that has long outgrown its spontaneous, unsanctioned beginnings (the first time BikePortland covered the ride in 2005 there were only 170 riders). For years now, ride organizers have worked in partnership with the City of Portland (including the Portland Police Bureau) to make sure the ride is as smooth and safe as possible. That collaboration has led to what Cashman feels is unfair treatment.
Cashman has a history of this type of activism. While living in Vermont in February 2018 he took issue with a public high school that flew a Black Lives Matter flag. Now in Portland, Cashman has accused our city government of playing favorites. In a letter (PDF) dated April 26th, 2019, in response to the City of Portland’s denials to his public records requests, Cashman wrote, “I contend that as this information was developed in coordination with a small group of private citizens who are allowed to know this information while other private citizens are denied it, the city is also engaged in selective disclosure.”
After a few people told me about Cashman, I contacted him to learn more about his concerns. Here’s our email exchange:
Hi Mr. Cashman,
I’ve heard about your inquiries to the DA’s office about the World Naked Bike Ride route.
I’ve covered the event for many years and I’m curious to know more about your feelings about it. Can you help me understand what your concern is? Are you simply curious about the route and don’t like that it’s kept a secret?
Thanks for your time.
I’m not a fan of the event (I think it’s rude to one’s neighbors) but that just my personal opinion and has no bearing on the rights of participants to do it. My major concern is with how the city handles it. There are three problems:
1. It’s an equal protection problem. The city must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances. For this event the city is choosing to waive their administrative rules and notification requirements for a moving event permit for this particular applicant and event. I don’t know their motivation to provide this special treatment, but such low level corruption to favor preferred groups or people over others degrades trust in our democratic institutions and further encourages such corruption.
2. It’s a public records problem. The state public records laws are very clear; public documents belong to the public, the default condition is they are to be released on request unless a specific exemption is claimed and justified. The city has not claimed any exemption. Instead they have employees brazenly coordinating how to evade public records requirements because, (back to point 1), for some reason this group is getting very special treatment. That not only degrades trust and violates public records law, but it sets a precedent and is a giant warning sign that the city does not take its obligation to its citizens seriously. Additionally, one has to wonder; if they are going through this much effort over this minor event, what else are they up to to keep actual consequential documents out of the public’s hands?
3. The event, based on what I read on the WNBR page, will also be a violation of the judgment against the City in Gathright v. City of Portland*. The WNBR page states they will have event security enforcing a “no photography” rule and removing anyone who makes people feel unsafe. As ordered by the judge in Gathright the organizers had to sign a statement of understanding to affirm they understand the only rules in public parks are those imposed by lawful ordinance, event organizers don’t get to make their own rules. And park rules fully support non-commercial photography by whoever wants to do it. [*Note: Cashman pasted the relevant portion of the judgment in his email; but I’ve left it out for brevity’s sake.]
Let me know if you have any further questions. Thanks for asking
Thank you for the responses Patrick.
I’m in an interesting position because I’m a participant, colleague/friend of many of the organizers over the years, and a journalist who prefers to keep a healthy distance when reporting about these events. That’s why your perspective on the event and actions around the route being made public are interesting to me.
Not sure if anyone has explained this to you yet, but the route is kept secret out of respect for the organizers who have spent years forging a productive working relationship with the Portland Police Bureau in order to keep this ride welcoming and safe for as many people as possible. The ride itself is unique: It’s free and put on by grassroots volunteers, it’s massive (and a major traffic consideration, hence the relationship with the PPB), and of course many of the people are naked.
While I understand your points about the letter of the law, many things our city and citizens do are in a grey area. That is, people come together to figure out a way to do something that might not fit perfectly inside the law, but that allows people to do what they want to do and gives the Police a feeling that public safety is assured. Take speeding in cars as an example. Police have a policy of not ticketing people until they go about 9-11 mph over the posted speed limit. That’s just one example.
Organizers of the Naked Bike Ride do not want people to target the participants in any way. They want to limit the amount of people who show up just to catcall, leer, and take photographs of nude strangers. While you may have no interest in doing any of those things, many people do. And because of that it seems reasonable to keep the location and route secret and to discourage photography at the start venue.
We can agree to disagree about this of course. I’m just trying to give you more context for why this event is treated like it is. Now keep in mind, I’m not on the inside. I have never played a role in organizing the event. If you’re interested, I could introduce you to one of the organizers.
Thanks again for your time. Have a nice weekend.
We’re going to have to agree to disagree. For me it is a matter of priority and from my perspective open, equitable, and accountable government comes before most anything else. Have a great weekend.
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