Whitehall News

Task force looks for 'new beginning'

Group has two months to mull options for city's July Fourth fun

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A 10-member committee will be asked to find an alternative to Whitehall's Fourth of July carnival, axed earlier this month by Mayor Kim Maggard in the wake of multiple arrests and a stampede of frightened patrons July 3 at John Bishop Park.

Maggard said the committee will need to find a viable solution by the end of October to allow for the scheduling of a public event to support next year's fireworks display.

Maggard announced her desire for such a task force at the Aug. 19 council meeting and also appealed to the public to make suggestions "to develop family-friendly activities."

The committee will include five city administrators and five residents, two of whom will be members of the Whitehall Community Celebration Association.

The five city staff members are Auditor Dan Miller, Parks and Recreation Director Steve Carr, Police Chief Richard Zitzke, Fire Chief Preston Moore and Community Affairs Coordinator Gail Martineau.

City Council is responsible for appointing five residents, but Maggard said she hopes Councilwoman Karen Conison, a member of the celebration association, is considered.

Leo Knoblauch, a former councilman and current school board member who is a member of the association, told Maggard Aug. 19 that the forming of the task force makes it appear the city is posturing to take control of the Fourth of July celebration, but Maggard said that was not the case.

"The task force is meant to find a way to stem any future safety problems," said Maggard, adding she welcomed the input of the celebration association on possible solutions.

According to Whitehall's fire and police chiefs, Whitehall-Yearling High School and Whitehall Community Park are not viable alternate sites for fireworks, leaving Bishop Park as the only possible location.

Maggard said she will not allow a carnival on the same day of the fireworks, but did not rule out a carnival on the preceding day or days if a vendor is willing to set up rides and concessions in the absence of a same-day fireworks display.

Knoblauch said the Fourth of July carnival, this year a four-day event from June 30 to July 3, is the celebration association's largest fundraiser and subsidizes the organization's other activities throughout the year.

The carnival made about $4,500 this year, Knoblauch said, and allowed for the association to present other programs such as the Easter egg hunt, Halloween Walk and Breakfast with Santa without requesting money from the city.

Councilwoman Leslie LaCorte said she welcomes the task force and said she "was proud of (her) citizens" for rallying at the Aug. 19 council meeting for an alternative to the carnival.

Councilman Bob Bailey, who supports Maggard's decision, called the carnival's cancellation the opportunity for "a new beginning."

Bailey said he wants to hear "from everyone who has ideas" while being respectful of the association's traditional role in the Fourth of July planning.

Councilman Chris Rodriguez concurred with Bailey.

"It was a difficult decision but I support it. (The task force) is a new start," he said.

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