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Cancelled July 4 event could happen Labor Day

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  Organizers of the July 4 festival that never happened because of heavy rains are hoping to see it take place Labor Day, Sept. 2, at Nash Farm Park.

  The Henry County Board of Commissioners (BOC) will consider the matter at its Aug. 6 meeting, and Sam Davis of the Henry County Rodeo Association is ready to move forward.

  “It’s just been a battle the whole time,” said Davis, who saw the agreement for the original event approved June 18, only to come back before the commissioners for a special called meeting July 2 at which the required $4 million insurance coverage was reduced to $2 million, despite the vehement objections of BOC chairman Tommy Smith, who was not present at the second meeting.

  Davis said he had gone before the Recreation Board as well as the Special Events Board back in May, and everything seemed to be approved. He said the Recreation Board approved the rental agreement as well as the request for sale of beer and wine. The BOC hearing’s sole purpose, he thought, was to approve the use of fireworks as stipulated by country ordinance.

  As for the event contract, Davis said he saw a copy for the first time the night of the June 18 meeting and was told that the insurance amount was aggregated between all parties – vendors, alcohol provider, inflatables provider, fireworks provider, etc. – which meant the requirement was met easily. He found out later that this was not the case from the county’s standpoint. After he appealed to individual commissioners and said the event could not take place under these requirements, a special meeting was called without Smith’s involvement and the contract was amended.

  Smith said he was told Davis had a copy of the contract before the June 18 hearing, but did not know when the commissioners received it. In his view, the matter should always come before the commissioners for final approval, and not just for the fireworks.

  “The BOC has to approve the contract,” said Smith. “In the past four years, it has just been signed and has not come before the board.”

  There was no discussion of the contract at the June 18 meeting, and Davis pointed out that neither he nor his associates were asked if they wanted to comment or ask questions.

  “I thought he got everything he asked for; he knew about the contract,” said Smith. “After the meeting he came up and thanked everybody.”

  District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman also did not know when Davis received the contract. “I do, however, find it hard to believe a person would sign a contract without at least reviewing it first,” he added.

  “Any questions should have been addressed at the June 18 meeting prior to a vote by the BOC,” Bowman continued.   “At the same time, this was brought to the BOC in the eleventh hour without any time for review by the BOC. Because the contract stipulated the terms and conditions one would assume that both parties agreed; therefore, a vote was all that was necessary.”

  Smith maintains that the higher amount of insurance is needed.

  “If it is a county-sponsored function, we have $4 million of insurance,” he said. “The fireworks, the inflatables and alcohol are high-risk. They have to cover the limits of the county. If there is a $4 million claim and their insurance is $2 million, the county has to cover the rest of it.”

While several people have stated that no other organization has ever been held to the $4 million standard, Smith said that such a contract was drawn up for last year’s event, before he took office, but the amount was lowered after it was feared that the event would not take place because of the expense, and the contract was not approved by the entire board before it was signed.

  Davis said he hopes the Aug. 6 hearing will go smoothly and county officials will not rehash issues that have already been covered. The Special Events Board would not give him an approval letter for the rain date until the BOC gave its approval, he said.

  “I don’t have any answers. I’m not rich enough to get an attorney,” said Davis. “We are a nonprofit and have lost money the past four years. This was our year to make it back. At the end of each year, I made up personally whatever money was short.”

  Since the previous round of meetings, he has heard that some commissioners did not like the idea of beer and wine at the July 4 festival and the process might have been easier if that part of the application had been dropped. He said he thought about it but now feels like it would be blackmail.

  “If they didn’t want alcohol at this event, each of those commissioners should have told their rec board members not to approve it. They should have stopped it then,” said Davis. “If any commissioners had come to us up front and said they didn’t want it at a July 4 event, we wouldn’t have done it.”

  No one expressed any such concerns before Davis landed a beer provider as a major sponsor, at which time he felt it was too late to change.

  Davis noted plans for the event included non-alcoholic sections for attendees, and 30 police officers were retained to work the event.

  Smith acknowledged that he felt the county’s policy allowing beer and wine sales at county parks was totally inappropriate, and he will be asking for a motion to rescind the policy at a meeting within the next several weeks. He added that such a move would not affect the Labor Day festivities should they be approved next week.

 

 

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