SALP access to vans suspended

The Department of Administrative Services suspended access to state-owned vehicle rentals on May 3 for all student groups, a decision that has cost many groups time and money.

The Department of Administrative Services suspended access to state-owned vehicle rentals on May 3 for all student groups, a decision that has cost many groups time and money.

The service was shut down because the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) found that Students for Unity rented two motor-pool fleet vans to travel to Wilsonville to protest the anti-abortion Oregon Right to Life conference on April 21. Now it could cost student groups almost three times as much to rent non-state owned vehicles to travel to events.

DAS opened an investigation to determine if PSU violated state law by allowing a student group to use state-owned vehicles to protest the event. DAS administrators said that PSU’s policy of allowing student groups to travel to protests in motor-pool vehicles might be against the law.

The Oregon Administrative Rules for vehicle safety say that any student program or activities identified by a university may use state-owned vehicles as long as it is consistent with the institution’s mission.

The rule also says that no state vehicle may be used to “transport students to an event or activity not directly related to an officially sanctioned program.”

Representatives from Students for Unity issued a written statement to the Vanguard stating that they followed all the rules to rent the van and attend the event. The statement, signed by co-coordinators for the group Rebecca Mazzio and Korinna Irwin, said they were vocal at the event but did not break any laws.

“We believe we did nothing wrong and we are being targeted unfairly because of our political believes [sic],” the statement reads.

While the investigation is open, Portland State’s access to the motor pool has been suspended.

Director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs Tonantzin Oceguera said by shutting down motor-pool access, the DAS has negatively affected many student groups. A group that has to travel must now rent a van from Enterprise rentals or drive their own vehicle.

A 12-passenger van rented from motor pool costs $26 and a 12-passeneger van from Enterprise costs $65.

She said the decision by DAS Fleet Administrator Kent Fretwell to suspend motor-pool privileges was a judgment call on his part and may not be a decision he can legally make.

“I say judgment call because there is no policy that has been broken,” Oceguera said.

Todd Bauch, coordinator for the Outdoor Program, said not having access to motor-pool vehicles has been “a huge inconvenience.”

The group, which facilitates recreational trips throughout the year, has had to scramble to find suitable transportation, Bauch said. This term the program scheduled 18 trips ranging from kayaking to white-water rafting. They put in reservations as much as two months ago for motor-pool vehicles and now can’t use them, he said.

“Our mission is to get Portland State University outdoors. Like any other outdoor program across the country we are dependent on vehicles to do that,” Bauch said. “It’s kind of interesting after so many years that they would all of a sudden take that stand.”

Fretwell would not comment but said in an e-mail to administrators, “Although both representatives from PSU and OUS have confirmed this was an ‘officially sanctioned program,’ we feel this was inappropriate use of a DAS-owned vehicle.”

Lonn Hoklin, communications manager for DAS, said he thinks that the investigation should end in about a week, but that does not mean PSU groups would immediately get their motor-pool privileges back. If DAS decides that PSU policy violated state policy regarding who may and may not use state vehicles, the suspension could be indefinite, he said.

Oceguera said if DAS asks PSU to change its policies on allowing student groups to attend protests with state vans, she would ask students if they want to continue using the DAS motor pool. If they decide they do not want to use DAS anymore, she said they would figure out other transportation options.

The series of events that led to PSU’s motor-pool privileges being suspended stemmed from Clackamas Police Department Lt. Chuck Slaney.

Slaney contacted PSU after he saw a group exit state-owned vans and begin to protest the event. Slaney was working that day and was not sure if it was legal to use state-owned property in that manner.

He said that Oceguera told him that Students for Unity was not protesting but participating in an educational opportunity. Slaney said he is unaware of a law that says student groups can’t use state vehicles for traveling to protests, and that he thinks it comes down to interpretation of what an “officially sanctioned program” is.

“I didn’t realize it was going to cause such a stir,” Slaney said. “I don’t care what the issue is. That has nothing to do with me. My concern is if there is some misuse of government property.”

Oceguera said the Department of Justice has been contacted to determine if DAS can legally suspend Portland State’s motor-pool privileges. She said the situation is “so silly to me.”

“They feel students shouldn’t protest and students shouldn’t be engaged,” Oceguera said. “Of course we allow student to express themselves in different perspectives.”

The rules and procedures that students must follow to use motor-pool vehicles are adhered to, Oceguera said. The administration does not choose who may and may not use vehicles as long as it’s for educational purposes, she said

Students rent vans to travel to nature sites and lobby at the state Capitol, and they rent vans to protest, Oceguera said.

“All of those things fall under an educational marketplace of ideas. To us it doesn’t matter what it is. There is nothing barring students from engaging in protest,” she said.

The campus motor-pool facility near the PCAT building will be shut down on June 15 to make room for the future PSU recreation center. The other Portland facility is at 6400 N. Cutter Circle, 7.3 miles from Portland State.