October 23, 2020
As the pandemic continues, an issue for consideration at the next City Commission meeting (WEDNESDAY, Nov 4, due to Election Day activities) will be the conduct of several special events for the remainder of the calendar year.
Section 65 of the City Code of Ordinances governs special events. “Event” and “Special Event” are similarly defined: “a non-profit, commercial, co-sponsored or private event, and includes uses or activities such as shows, festivals, parades, fairs, concerts and parties if held on public property” (Sec 65-4). Permits are required for events and permits are granted by the City Manager of his designee, the purpose for which a Special Events Committee has been created.
The Special Events Committee, chaired by Ms. Alisha Brown (Parks and Recreation Deparment) includes other members of departmental staff integral in event preparation: Parks and Recreation, Streets, Police (including Police Auxiliary Corps), and Fire.
Applications for events are required to be submitted for consideration no later than sixty days prior to the actual date of the event. Event organizers are often invited to appear before the Special Events Committee to review an application. The Special Events Committee decides whether to issue the appropriate permit. If a permit application is denied, the applicant has the right to appeal the decision to the City Commission, whose decision is final.
The conduct of many special events over the course of recent months have obviously been cancelled: Shrimp Festival, Sounds on Center, Fourth of July fireworks. Other events typically conducted in November and December have already been cancelled, such as the pentaque tournament and Dickens on Centre. It is four other events over the course of the remainder of the calendar year that have been presented to the City Commission for review. The City Commission briefly discussed the remaining events, but with a lack of consensus, the issue will return to the Nov 4 meeting for formal consideration.
The annual veterans parade has received a permit to be conducted on Saturday, November 7 (Veterans Day is officially Wednesday, November 11). The permit did contain a condition that, at the City’s sole discretion due to the state of the pandemic, the permit could be revoked. Other permitted events in November and December include the downtown Christmas tree lighting (Saturday, November 28), the Lighted Holiday Parade (Saturday, December 5), and the Shrimp Drop (Thursday, December 31). All of the events are outdoor events.
The concern of many is the anticipated gathering of people and lack of appropriate distancing. The impact of the pandemic and related governmental actions is highly contentious: doctors and medical specialists (and politicians) can put forth a variety of guidance. It is the uncertainty that breeds the most confusion. In the absence of certainty, actions, both by government and individuals, are simply based upon doing what is believed to be the best course of community action or personal responsibility.
It is practically impossible to enforce mask requirements or social distancing. Even if it were, the City simply doesn’t have enough law and code enforcement officers to patrol downtown, the beaches, parks, and businesses. Further, even if practical, would such enforcements efforts be a community priority at the cost of other enforcement or public safety activities? Compliance with recommended safety protocols primarily rests with individuals: if at risk, stay home, wash your hands, and, if you do go out, wear a mask and distance yourself from others.
The City Commission is charged with working to ensure the public health, safety, and welfare of the community. It is often relatively easy to declare an emergency and order an evacuation in the face of an oncoming hurricane. The pandemic, an international health crisis, is a different type of emergency- trained and credible experts greatly differ in appropriate actions and measures, so who do we believe?
I primarily encourage you to keep yourself healthy and safe to the best of your ability. I also encourage you to share your comments regarding community safety and special events with the City Commissioners prior to the November 4 meeting. The email addresses for each Commissioner can be found on the City’s website.
Finally, please take the time to complete the most fundamental civic duty: vote. This is your opportunity to guide (in however small of way) the direction of the City, the County, the State, and the Nation. Do not shirk from that incredible responsibility. Thank you.