Park District Responds To Book Bike Brouhaha (UPDATED)

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jul 7, 2010 9:00PM

2010_07_07_bookbike.jpg It seems we stirred a hornet's nest with yesterday's story on the Chicago Park District and the Book Bike. With other media outlets like WGN, MSNBC, and NBC 5 looking into the story, the Chicago Park District issued the following statement this afternoon.

Despite published reports, the Chicago Park District did NOT issue a ban on the “book bike.” The Book Bike proprietor was approached by a park employee in the Wicker Park community over the weekend, and asked to contact the Chicago Park District headquarters to gain proper permission and/or a permit to distribute books on park property. He has yet to do so. The Chicago Park District champions literacy and works with partners such as the Chicago Public Library to encourage reading. With thousands of children and families enjoying the parks each day, the Chicago Park District has the responsibility to ensure the safety and enjoyment of its patrons.

In a follow-up discussion via email, a representative from the Park District told us, "We have no record of any calls, and he refused to give the park employee a phone number. Only late yesterday evening did an individual representing him contact the District via email. Also, I am told that the employee did not ask the bike proprietor to leave, but asked him to contact the Park Services department to request proper clearance and/or a permit for the future." On the issue of being asked to leave, Gabriel himself admitted: "(to be fair, the official said I was welcome to stay 'on the outskirts of the park until further notice')…I had the mind to raise a ruckus right then and there but I bit my lip and packed up The Book Bike." We've amended yesterday's story to reflect this and reached out to Gabriel for more clarification on the discussion with the official.

Of course, there's a difference between "banned" and being shut down for not having the proper permits and paying the required fees are different. But semantics aside, the primary issue remains: is the Book Bike required to obtain the appropriate permits, file the required paperwork, and file the hefty, required fees before it is allowed to operate again? Two Park District employees Betsy spoke to yesterday said yes, that's the case. We put this question to the Park District rep we exchanged emails with today but she then stopped replying to our emails. If she does answer, we'll update with her response.

UPDATE: We've heard from Gabriel for clarification on his contact with the Park District:

I told the official that I am more reliable via email (I am). In writing, I gave the official my full name, the website, and my email address (which is available to the world). One reason I only provided an email address was so that I would have anything they said about this in writing. On Saturday, I gave the official my best contact information in writing, in my own hand. So their statement that I didn't provide them with a number is accurate. Since they can say with assurance that I didn't provide a number, that leads me to believe they saw the sheet with my handwriting on it which had my preferred method of contact...

Saturday evening, minutes after I posted the entry that set all this off, I went to the Park website and sent them an email through their contact page. The email consisted of my full name, my email address and a direct link to the blog entry. If they had gone to the site, my contact info would have been plain as day, just as it has been from day one of this project (back to July '08).

Yesterday I called them, hoping to head off all this media because I still believe this to be a misunderstanding that can be amicably resolved. I was transferred first to the Communications office. I spoke with a woman (didnt get her name) who, while I was on the line, looked up Betsy's article on Chicagoist. She informed me that I should be speaking with the Permit Dept and not her, that she handles PR for the Park District (or something along those lines; for the record, she was very nice). She gave me the number to the Permit Dept, I called after getting off the phone with her. I listened to an interminably long message (at the end it says "To bypass this in the future and leave a voicemail, just press 1."). I left not only my name, website, and email, I also, for the first time, offered my cell phone (while stressing I prefer email, which I do).

Gabriel says he's yet to hear back from the Park District. The same goes for us.