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Poison oak issue resolved

A tree with poison oak behind the t-ball field at Keizer Little League Park was fenced off May 29. The tree was removed last weekend. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
A tree with poison oak behind the t-ball field at Keizer Little League Park was fenced off May 29. The tree was removed last weekend. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The continued presence of poison oak by a local baseball field ignited some anger.

A city councilor’s offhand comment about it on Facebook simply fanned the flames.

The poison oak was discovered last month growing over a fence and onto the t-ball field in the northwest corner of the Keizer Little League Park. Keizer Little League is managing the park this year, after the Keizer Youth Sports Association (KYSA) had managed the complex the last few years. The poison oak was taken down last weekend.

Roger Schneider, in his first year of coaching son Mason’s t-ball team through the KYSA, said he first alerted KLL president Stephanie Bojorquez about the problem in mid-May.

“I first told Stephanie on May 16,” Schneider told the Keizertimes last week. “My father was also there and he found out who to tell. Stephanie was very nice at first. She said she would have her maintenance guy look at it and would do something about it, no problem.”

Schneider, whose seven-month pregnant wife became covered over much of her body with poison oak, was alarmed by what he saw at the field later.

“We had a game there about a week later,” Schneider said. “It was exactly the same. I thought maybe they didn’t know what to look for. Another week later, it’s still there. So I walked up to her and said, ‘Hey Stephanie, it’s sad no one has taken care of it and the kids are still playing there.’ She said, ‘I can’t do anything about it. I don’t know what to tell you.’”

Bojorquez said the tree with the poison oak is on private property, thus she couldn’t do anything. Bojorquez noted she contacted city officials after the first conversation. However, both Keizer city manager Chris Eppley and Public Works director Bill Lawyer said they didn’t hear about the problem until last May 29.

“It’s hanging over,” Bojorquez said of the poison oak. “It was too big. It’s like a tree. It’s growing like mad.”

On the morning of May 29, Robert Johnson, parks supervisor for Keizer, erected a temporary fence to keep children out of the area.

“The property owner has been contacted and requested to remedy the situation right away,” Eppley said. “We can’t spray chemicals or trim trees that aren’t on public property and trimming the limbs that overhang the park wouldn’t solve the issue.”

Lawyer noted city officials were limited in what they could do.

“We took action on what we could do,” Lawyer said. “This is a neighbor’s responsibility. Poison oak is not easy to get rid of.”

Bojorquez, who has been exposed to the poison oak twice herself and had to get medical steroids as a result, noted she spoke with Johnson after the fencing was put up.

“Robert told me the tree is huge,” she said. “It’s not a bush anymore, it’s a tree so you wouldn’t think it was poison oak.”

However, Schneider was upset nothing had been done in two weeks and shared his frustrations on Facebook.

“It’s roughly 15 feet away from the bleachers behind the backstop,” Schneider wrote in part. “I will not support anything to do with KLL ever again. We are not happy they don’t want to do anything about it. (Their) web site states that their sports complex is a fun and safe environment for kids. Please share and get the word out.”

Schneider encouraged others to share his message and said that’s what led to two Portland TV stations coming to Keizer for stories on the issue. Schneider said his wife, Danielle, could have gotten poisoned by touching the clothes of their children, who had been playing in the area.

“The only thing that’s been any different lately is the swelling has gone down a bit,” Schneider said on May 30. “It’s been almost three weeks now. It’s terrible.”

Schneider called contacting the property owner “a step in the right direction,” but questioned why permission would be necessary.

“You can’t tell me a property owner would be mad if you took care of a problem on their property,” he said. “Is there one property owner in America that would be upset about you taking care of the problem?”

Mayor Lore Christopher shared a link to the Keizertimes’ original web story on the issue on her Facebook page early May 30, along with a warning to be careful.

The first response came from city councilor Jim Taylor.

“Quick, someone call CNN. This could be a terrorist plot,” Taylor wrote.

The attempt at humor backfired and fanned the flames.

“Shame on you Councilman Taylor!” Jake Martin wrote early Friday afternoon. “The guy you are mocking is a volunteer and warned of the danger for two weeks prior to going to the press!”

Schneider emphasized the TV stations contacted him, not the other way around.

“I still have a hard time seeing anything funny or a joking matter about terrorism or kids and families’ health,” he wrote.

Others went further.

“It’s a shame that we have people like Jim Taylor representing our city!” Stephanie Chike wrote. “That is a pathetic post he owes Roger and his family a apology and the city of Keizer.”

Tyler Hansen wrote he hoped Christopher could “put her joker in check before someone else does” while Brett Chatfield also urged action.

“He should be forced to be removed from his position before the day is over!” Chatfield wrote. “Are you OK with having someone (holding) public office who makes light of terrorism Mayor? I would like a response!”

Later in the afternoon, Christopher started posting updates on efforts to take down the tree.

“We will get this taken care of ASAP,” Christopher wrote, noting Lawyer had contacted the property owner that afternoon. “We are all very concerned when someone is harmed, including Councilor Taylor. Folks, we are working to take care of this as quickly as we can. I am as concerned for this family as I would be for my own. We will get this fixed, I will not rest until we do. Until then don’t go near that tree.”

Shortly before 5 p.m. on May 30, Christopher posted another update.

“We have secured permission to remove the tree,” the mayor wrote. “R and R Tree Service has (been) hired and the tree will be removed this weekend.”

A few minutes later, Taylor returned to explain his previous post.

“My comment wasn’t in any way minimizing my concern for the mother’s discomfort,” he wrote. “As one who has had poison oak over my entire body I know how miserable it is. My comment was directed at the Portland news media. This is a local issue that is being taken care of.”

Not everyone liked that response.

“Jim, no matter who your comment was intended for, it was inappropriate and unprofessional,” Ruth Wafford wrote. “You should simply apologize for being insensitive and putting your foot in your mouth attempting to be funny or sarcastic or whatever it was that you are attempting. Epic fail.”

Christopher brought up the topic at the end of Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting.

“It was very concerning to all of us,” she said. “Bill did outstanding work. We were able to get a tree service there, R and R Tree Service. Heads up to them, they got someone dispatched. They got the tree down. It was private property, so it took a while to get approval. It’s been done and everyone is safe at Keizer Little League Park again.”

Taylor noted he showed R and R employees the problem area last Friday night.

“We did it then so people could come Saturday morning and use the facility,” he said.

Lawyer said on Tuesday property owner Country Club Investments has committeed to reimbursing the city for the cost of cutting the tree down.