Athens City Council expressed concerned over the upcoming fest season during its Monday meeting.
City Council President Christine Knisely talked about an alert from Chief of Police Tom Pyle, which urges citizens to consider safe practices during fest season. Knisley said members of council and police plan to go out into the community offering friendly safety tips during the weeks of street fests.
The discussion lingered on when Brandon Thompson, a local DJ and a member of the Athens Clean and Safe Halloween Committee, urged the council to work with fest-goers on the issue of street closings in similar ways as they do with the Athens Halloween Block Party.
“I feel like there is a strong disconnect between the needs of the city and the wants of the students in regards to street fests,” Thompson said.
Thompson, also known as DJ B-Funk, suggested creating a Kickstarter or GoFundMe crowdfunding page where students and alumni could donate money to organize and secure street fests. The funds would go toward the extra staff and police needed at fests.
“If the students want to have these parties, and they do, and they will no matter what, the city can make the situation a little less of a financial strain by allowing some freedom in how we handle the fests,” Thompson said.
City Councilman Patrick McGee, D-At Large, is a supporter of the idea to close off streets such as Palmer Fest and High Fest and bring organization to fest season.
“It’s a burden on the city and a lot of people oppose the notion of allowing the students to expand their fests at all,” McGee said. “All they can see is money, and it was the same argument that was given for Halloween 30 years ago.”
Opposition arose from other council members, specifically about the issue of safety at street fests.
Councilwoman Michelle Papai, D-3rd Ward, had concerns about the city sanctioning events involving drug use and underage drinking. “Where’s the liability?” Papai asked.
“(Halloween is) a well-coordinated event with a lot of safety and services available,” Papai said. “I don’t see the city having the ability to do that for every fest that comes along.”
McGee argued that fests will continue in Athens regardless, and the city allowing the organization of street fests would not mean facilitating drug use and drinking.
“What does sanctioning mean? Does it mean we’re promoting it in the city? No, we’re allowing the citizens of Athens to do what they would like to do under the umbrella of an organization,” McGee said.
The council later discussed a mural to be painted outside of the ARTS/West building. McGee opposed the issue, saying the location of the mural was not central enough for maximum viewing.
The motion to approve the mural passed in a 4-2 vote.