Pickerington city officials aren't expected to make any recommendations or decisions about how to proceed with the community's July 4th celebration before the end of September, according to Mayor Lee Gray.
As the end of August approaches, Gray said he'll work with Pickerington Police Chief Michael Taylor and interim-City Manager Frank Wiseman to determine how the July 4th celebration will take shape in the future, but that nothing has been formally decided.
"It's ongoing," Gray said. "No one has given me any hard suggestions yet.
"We're looking at the end of September, beginning of October to look at what consensus we might have."
City officials will re-evaluate Pickerington's celebration, which traditionally is held July 4 and has included a parade starting at 6:30 p.m. followed by entertainment in Victory Park, 100 Lockville Road, and fireworks at dusk.
Those discussions were planned after crowd-control issues arose for a second consecutive year.
In 2017, panicked attendees ran to exit Victory Park during the celebration after several teens reportedly yelled that gunshots had been fired.
This year, a fight between teens in the park's shelter house resulted in a bystander suffering a broken leg after the teens fell on him.
Police were able to transport the 42-year-old victim to a nearby Violet Township Fire Station for treatment but not before a crowd of approximately 75 people reportedly became hostile with roughly 10 officers who responded to the scene to disperse the crowd and tend to the injured man.
That incident was captured on video and published on various social media sites.
However, according to an "after-action report" provided to Pickerington City Council by Taylor, it wasn't isolated.
Taylor's July 5 report stated between 7,000 and 8,000 people attended the parade and fireworks and that all Pickerington police officers were placed on duty July 4.
He noted 23 officers were assigned to provide security at the parade, the fireworks launch site at Pickerington High School Central and Victory Park. He said the department's costs for staffing the event and responding to calls for service was $20,000.
"Even with the requirement that all officers work this day, our agency is still unable to adequately staff this event," Taylor stated in the report.
"The event has grown too large for the department to provide enough officers for security in the park area, have enough officers to cover normal patrol requirements and be able to conduct traffic control during and after the festivities."
Taylor's report stated because of other fireworks displays taking place in other area communities on July 4, there was "limited opportunity to have assistance from other area law-enforcement agencies."
He said the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office was unable to provide deputies because of "their own security requirements throughout the county."
According to Taylor's report, there were "numerous" security incidents at the celebration, but all occurred in Victory Park and the nearby Circle K, 29 Hill Road South, where he said the department received reports of people running in and out of the store and stealing items.
The after-action report stated "nearly a dozen potential fights were broken up by officers before they started" and that at least three people told to leave the park because they smelled strongly of marijuana.
It also said officers received "numerous" complaints from people who reported marijuana use in the area of the shelter house.
The report added that officers faced hostile crowds at the time they cleared the fight scene in the shelter house, and in another incident a male "squared up" to fight an officer, but then fled the scene when the officer called for backup.
In each of the incidents in which someone was fighting, asked to leave the park or charged with a crime, the report stated, the individuals weren't residents of Pickerington or Violet Township.
Taylor's report, issued just one day after this year's celebration, didn't offer any proposals for changing the community's festivities, but did state it's become a public safety issue.
"Over the last several years, this event has increasingly become less and less safe," Taylor stated.
"All options will be considered for future events to ensure the safety of both patrons and officers."
Pickerington City Councilman Tony Barletta, who is chairman of council's Safety Committee, said he plans to keep the celebration on the City Council Safety Committee's agenda moving forward, but primarily so residents and council members have a forum for discussing the issue publicly.
The Safety Committee meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays following the first council meeting of each month. The meetings are held in Pickerington City Hall, 100 Lockville Road. The next scheduled meeting is Sept. 5.
Barletta said City Council can provide input, but decisions about how and when the event will be held are in the hands of the mayor, city manager and police chief.
While council could pull or significantly reduce funding for the event, Barletta called the July 4th icelebration important and said council members "don't want to pull the plug on it."
Currently, Barletta said he's in favor of changing Pickerington's celebration to July 3, the same day the city of Columbus holds its Red, White & Boom! events. Doing so, he said, might reduce the number of out-of-town attendees and make things more manageable.
"I tend to think it would be good to align it with the Red, White & Boom! celebration," Barletta said. "That might be one way to kind of keep the crowd a little bit lower than it's been."
Barletta said Safety Committee members also discussed holding the July 4th parade in the morning and then waiting several hours to reconvene the party in the park for the fireworks display, as well as possibly eliminating some of the entertainment activities at the park that might draw more visitors.
"There's nothing that's really concrete," he said.
"A lot of these discussions are going to go directly to the mayor's office because it's more of an administrative issue what we end up doing."
Gray said "everything is on the table" at the moment, and Wiseman said he's working with Gray and Taylor to collect information from other communities to see how best to proceed.
"We've been doing a whole bunch of research, talking to other communities and finding out what they're doing, why they're doing it and how that might work for this city," Wiseman said.
One person who's opposed to changing the date of Pickerington's July 4th celebration is Council President Jeff Fix.
"That's the day the Declaration of Independence was signed," Fix said. "It wasn't signed on July 3rd or July 5th."
Fix didn't want to discuss some of the options city officials are exploring because, at this point, nothing has been formally proposed.
He reiterated many of the problems started during the local celebration reportedly have been caused by outsiders, and said Pickerington could follow other communities' practices of fencing off celebration areas, such as Victory Park.
If that took place, he said, only allow community residents with tickets would be permitted to enter the grounds.
"We're going to explore every option available to us to eliminate that element from coming in and taking away the good times we should be able to have," Fix said.
"We will explore all options and we will come up with a solution, I hope, that will allow us to have a safe and family-friendly event."