Karen Martin Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
September 30, 2009
Saturday's Pumpkin Festival in downtown Elkin brought not only patrons to enjoy the festival, but discord with members of CACHE, Citizens Alliance FOR a Clean, Healthy Economy.
In a written account, given to The Tribune of an incident that took place during the festival, Sam and Betty Tesh explained that they were threatened with arrest by an Elkin Police Department officer if they did not remove badges they wore identifying them as members of CACHE.
CACHE has been outspoken in its opposition to the proposed building of Fibrowatt in the area.
The Tesh's explained how CACHE asked Laurette Leagon, President of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, to rent a booth during the Pumpkin Festival and was refused.
The Teshes and Joan Vasata obtained permission from Jason's Shoes to stand in front of his store and hold a sign displaying a graphic red circle with a slash across the word Fibrowatt, and the web site addresses for the Yadkin Riverkeeper and BRENDL, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. The group also held information sheets. The members all wore neon orange badges with the acronym CACHE and the words spelled out.
"We were given permission by the store owner of Jason's to stand at his store," Sam Tesh of CACHE said. "We were in the indentation area of the store, not on the sidewalk. At approximately 10 o'clock (a.m.), (an EPD officer) came up to us and said 'We're going to have to ask you to leave. You're not allowed here'. The policeman then went on to say that the organizers of the Pumpkin Festival did not want us downtown," Tesh said.
The officer informed the Teshes and Vasata that he had spoken with Leagon and she was on her way to speak with them.
At this point, Sam Tesh pointed to his badge identifying them as members of CACHE and asked if they had to take them off.
"'Yes sir, you do', was the officer's response," said Sam Tesh.
According to him, he then asked the officer what would happen if they didn't remove their badges and the officer informed them he would arrest them.
At this point, Betty Tesh and Vasata removed their badges and Sam Tesh zipped his windbreaker up over the badge according to the submitted account.
"Then the officer said to me 'I can still see the edge of your sign, sir. Either zip your coat up all the way, or you will be arrested'." Tesh said.
Tesh then said that he told the officer "this ain't over yet."
According to Tesh, the CACHE members wondered if their first amendment rights were being trampled, especially when the officer then added if he saw them anywhere in town wearing that sign, he would arrest them.
"Ms. Leagon appeared and explained that the Chamber of Commerce had refused to rent us a booth because we were anti-business and the festival was supposed to be a family event. We had no authorization to be downtown, she said, and then added that 'we don't want any controversy'," Tesh said.
According to the account, at this point, both Vasata and Betty Tesh, concerned about two other members of CACHE, Jan Lee and Jeri Ballou, went out into the crowd to find their fellow members and tell them to remove their badges.
Betty Tesh said they complied with the request of Leagon and the police and left. They then reported that while they were walking through the festival looking at the wares offered by the Pumpkin festival vendors and purchasing food, they were followed by either a police officer or Leagon.
"We understand that some people in Elkin disagree with our group about Fibrowatt, however, we would like to remind everyone that dissent is allowed in America," Sam Tesh said. "We would have been less controversial if we had been rented a space and allowed to make information available to anyone who might have been interested. As far as we are concerned, The Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce only succeeded in making themselves, and the Elkin police, look like a repressive authority."
The Tribune contacted Chief Monroe Wagoner for comment on the threat of arrest, but was told that he could make no comment until a meeting with the town's attorney, Ray Parker, the officer involved, and other parties could take place. He would not verify the identity of the officer the CACHE members named.
Parker was contacted, but said he could make no comment at this time, although he did have a conversation with acting town manager John Holcomb about the issue, but it was a privileged conversation. He also stated that Sam Tesh had contacted him citing a general statute that the named officer quoted to Tesh concerning the arrest, but that the general statute Tesh was asking about was not a valid statute number.
Calls to Holcomb were unsuccessful.
"The Pumpkin Festival is a juried festival," Leagon said. "It says in our rules that we reserve the right to refuse any application. We (the festival committee), did discuss the request, but thought that it was not the proper venue for their group. The festival is geared to family. We also do not allow political parties or candidates. We try to be consistent in the vendors during the festival.
It is inappropriate for festival patrons to be approached while looking through the vendors booths and enjoying the giant pumpkins, arts and crafts and contests."
Jerry Randall, President of the Pumpkin Festival committee, agreed with Leagon saying vendors are required to remain in their respective booths and not walk around soliciting business.
"The police patrol the festival and ask that all vendors stay with their booths," Randall said. "Everybody is treated the same and fairly. We want people to come and walk around the festival and downtown and not feel as if someone has an agenda they are trying to present.
The arrest comment did not come from (the Chamber)," he said. "We would not ask for anyone to be arrested. They (members of CACHE), were asked to leave and when they didn't, we called for assistance. I understand the members got quite boisterous about it. It is also my understanding that a woman with CACHE was approaching people asking them to sign a petition.
The festival is about trying to do something fun and good for the public, it's not the place for people to push an agenda. As a chamber we follow our guidelines and rules for all participants."
"We did not talk to anyone who did not come to us," Sam Tesh said. "We offered information to those patrons who asked, we did not force any issues."