A “tentative compromise” is being negotiated for the 2018 Festival of the Bells after the City of Hillsboro announced it would not issue a permit for the festival to be held in the center of the uptown area, following a lengthy and at times contentious meeting of two Hillsboro City Council committees, during which Festival of the Bells Committee President Rick Williams said the festival may cease if it’s even moved one block.
Dick Donley, who serves on Hillsboro City Council and sits on the Community Enhancement Committee, said he walked around uptown Hillsboro Wednesday morning with Festival of the Bells Committee Vice President Justin Harsha, who also serves on Hillsboro City Council as chairman of the Street and Safety Committee, and the two came up with a possible alternative to the festival taking up the intersection of U.S. Routes 50 and 62 in the center of town.
“We just moved it a little up North High Street, which would allow us to open up U.S. 50 and South High Street (U.S. 62),” Donley said.
Harsha said discussions between him, Donley and Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie on Wednesday were positive, and Donley said the administration seems “agreeable.”
McKenzie described the move as a “tentative compromise,” and said he’s willing to work with the festival committee to find a workable solution.
As reported by The Times-Gazette, McKenzie cited traffic and safety concerns, as well as complaints from uptown business owners, as his primary reasons for denying the permit, saying it’s impractical to close down two major routes for three days in the middle of summer.
After McKenzie announced the decision at a council meeting last Tuesday, a joint meeting of the Community Enhancement Committee and Street and Safety Committee was called, drawing about 50 people – except for McKenzie and Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings.
McKenzie and Hastings both said they did not attend the meeting because they felt it should never have been called.
“I completely disagreed with the pretense of the meeting,” McKenzie said. “The meeting never should have been called, and it shouldn’t have been put in Justin Harsha’s committee… It’s a major conflict of interest with him being a council member, the chair of a council committee and a member of the Festival of the Bells committee.”
“The only thing I’ll say about the meeting… is there seems to be a sudden tendency for certain council members to hold committee meetings that, in reality, have a political slant or intent to them, and are not really the business of the committee,” Hastings said. “That is alarming. That’s why I wasn’t there.”
Hastings said it was “highly improper” for Harsha to “be the chair of a council committee meeting where he’s influencing decisions in favor of his organization. And I feel really strongly about that, it’s really inappropriate.”
“I don’t think it is (a conflict) because all I’m trying to do is open up the flow of information, that’s my goal,” he said. “I’m not going to vote on something that’s a conflict, I never do… And if someone thinks it’s a conflict, I’d be more than happy for them to have someone else serve the liaison position, absolutely.”
Hastings said he’s stepping away from the issue and allowing McKenzie to handle most of the discussion.
“It’s appropriate that Mr. McKenzie deal with this issue, because he’s the safety and service director… and it’s about safety and service,” he said.
Meanwhile, McKenzie and Festival of the Bells Committee President Rick Williams both seem to agree a phone call would have saved administration officials and festival planners a lot of trouble, but neither have spoken with one other since McKenzie made the announcement last week.
“Every bit of it could have been solved by a phone call,” McKenzie told The Times-Gazette, echoing Williams’ words from Tuesday night’s meeting. “Rick Williams still has yet to contact me.”
Williams said during Tuesday’s meeting that he was blindsided by the decision, and festival planners weren’t allowed enough time to make other arrangements, adding that he feels the administration has wanted the festival to be held away from the uptown area for some time.
“Picking up the phone… could have solved a lot of problems,” Williams said during the meeting.
McKenzie said he doesn’t feel it’s the city’s responsibility to reach out to event planners about permits, and has not done so in the past.
“As a matter of fact… before they applied for a permit for next year, I told them it wasn’t going to be suitable,” McKenzie said. “And not one time did I ever say they had to move it from the uptown area, just that the closure of the main intersection was an issue… It was never my intent to move it from the uptown area.”
In response to Williams saying the administration has wanted the festival out of the uptown area for some time, Hastings said, “We are now addressing something that a lot of people have asked us to do for years.”
Contacted Wednesday evening, Williams said he hadn’t heard from anyone about the compromise.
“I haven’t heard from anybody at all,” he said.
Williams reiterated that there’s still a “real good possibility” the festival will not be held if it is moved even one block, but said the festival committee will make the final decision.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter.