Nearly 50 people gathered at the North East Street firehouse on Tuesday evening to voice their opinions on the City of Hillsboro administration’s denial of a permit for the Festival of the Bells to be held in the uptown area in 2018.
The meeting, at times contentious, was a combination of Hillsboro City Council’s Community Enhancement and Street and Safety committees, and was called after Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said during a council meeting last week that the city would not issue a permit for the Festival of the Bells to be held uptown, citing traffic and safety concerns, and complaints from what he said was a “majority” of uptown business owners.
Justin Harsha, who serves as both chairman of the Street and Safety Committee and as vice president of the Hillsboro Festival of the Bells, Inc., said the decision to issue a permit for the festival lies with the city administration rather than council, but added there may be “other avenues” for council to be a deciding voice.
Neither McKenzie nor Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings were in attendance at the meeting.
Festival of the Bells Committee President Rick Williams spoke at length, criticizing Hastings and McKenzie for their absence and for not communicating with festival planners before deciding to deny the permit. Williams said he has not heard from either one since the decision was made.
“Picking up the phone… could have solved a lot of problems,” he said, later asking the committee members, “Aren’t you guys embarrassed neither of them showed?”
Williams described the difficulties of seeking alternative venues for the festival, such as the fairground or the site of the old high school, and at one point said that if the festival is moved even one block, it “will probably cease.”
Williams said he feels the administration has wanted the festival to be held away from the uptown area “for years,” and has made it difficult in the past for it to be held there.
“If we don’t have some answers real quick, these two men,” apparently referencing Hastings and McKenzie, “may get their way and there will be no festival in 2018,” he said.
According to Williams, holding the festival at the fairground could cost an estimated $12,000-$14,000 in electricity alone. As for the site of the old high school and football field, Williams said he would “hate to even ask” the Hillsboro Board of Education, and “we all know the answer already.”
Williams said he feels the festival should be allowed to be held uptown in 2018, and the 2019 festival’s location can be discussed later.
A number of citizens also spoke, with a majority appearing to disapprove of the festival moving, although some were in favor of change.
One man expressed frustration that the administration can choose to deny the permit without any checks and balances.
“That’s a dictator way of doing things,” he said.
Several others disagreed that the festival is enough of an inconvenience to be moved, since it’s held for three days over a weekend.
One man said the city shouldn’t try to “fix what’s not broken,” adding, “I don’t even know why we’re having this conversation.”
A woman who came in later in the meeting said she often brings her children to the festival, and doesn’t mind it being held in a “safer place.”
A number of those in attendance agreed that the absence of administration officials rendered the meeting ineffective.
Ann Morris, who sits on the Street and Safety Committee, said since the decision isn’t up to council, the only reason the meeting was held was to gather input from committee members’ constituents so they could relay it to the administration.
“This meeting didn’t even have to happen,” she said, adding, “it’s not up to us,” a comment that brought some expressions of disagreement.
Dick Donley, who also sits on the Street and Safety Committee, gave a brief history of the festival, and said there has always been “responsibility on both sides” between the administration and the festival committee, and the two entities need to work with one another to make it work.
Local pastor Greg Seaman said it’s special to him that the festival is held “in the shadow of the courthouse,” since the structure represents the patriotic values for which Hillsboro stands.
Rodney and Jaymara Captain, both of whom have spoken at previous meetings on a number of issues, were in favor of the festival staying in the same place.
“We’re just talking about three days,” Rodney Captain said.
At the end of the meeting, Community Enhancement Committee chair Claudia Klein made a motion that Harsha speak with McKenzie as soon as possible to relate what happened at the meeting and discuss options. The two committees voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
No other action was taken.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.