(Please note Celtic Festival official comments and Editor’s Note at the end of the story)
Newport Celtic Festival and Highland Games promoter Belinda Goody and Celtic Foundation Board member Jill Lyon tried to convince the Newport City Council Monday night that the city should waive a nearly $2,000 permit fee to hold their event. City staff said revenues from the fee would go toward hiring Newport Police Officers to maintain visibility and to maintain order and safety during the very busy three day event in early June.
Goody and Lyon tried to convince the council that the Festival already has hired a local security firm to keep things orderly and that they have volunteer alcohol monitors keeping track of the gathering. “We don’t need a permit or pay a patrol fee because we don’t need city services, like police,” said Belinda Goody.
A review of the city ordinances that deal with such situations reads one way in the eyes of Lyon and Goody, but quite another in the eyes of the council. Councilor David Allen admitted to Lyon and Goody that the language seems to give discretion to special events organizers as to whether they “request” assistance from police. However, in other areas of the ordinance, discretion of whether police will have a presence is up to the police chief to determine. And to that end Chief Mark Miranda claims the event has grown large enough to fall into the same category as the Annual Seafood and Wine Festival that occurs in February. In both cases, Chief Miranda maintains, local police are expected to be extra busy and require extra patrols, which must be paid by someone. The ordinance requires that the extra expenses be covered by the event organizers.
The two sides agreed to disagree, but in the end, Lyon and Goody were told that their event had grown beyond the “formative” stages and that general monitoring and higher needs that trigger enhanced law enforcement will have to be paid for by the event. And so the council voted to require the celtic games pay a permit fee, the level of which has yet been determined. Outside the council chambers Chief Miranda said they’ll do what they can to keep the fee as low as possible by using less costly officers and volunteers to do most of the work. But again, the event has become too successful to not be properly monitored by local law enforcement – not necessarily by strolling through the grounds, but by monitoring drunk driving, any drunk or disorderly patrons, fights, parking problems or other common occurrences at events where alcohol is served.
The following statement is from Newport Celtic Festival and Highland Games organizer Belinda Goody:
Goody explained, “The Celtic Heritage Alliance (CHA) wished only to express to City Council that the wording of the current ordinance gives rise to question and further exploration in its legal interpretation and, given its current wording, CHA did not feel our event met the definition of a “special event,” in part, because we were not “requesting” City services, rather, we were being “required” to use them at the sole discretion of the City staff.”
CHA is required by State Law, through Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulations, to hire Oregon Department of Safety Standards and Training certified security officers and to have additional trained alcohol monitors present at the event due to the fact that alcohol is served during the festival. TCB Security Services has been hired to satisfy the State requirement and their job will be, in part, to handle any issues which arise within those parameters in the same manner as the police and as outlined in the Control Plan submitted by CHA which was reviewed and approved by Chief Miranda and OLCC.
During Monday’s discussions at City Council, Chief Miranda stated that there had been no police response required at the event held at the County Fairgrounds in the two years the festival has been running. Goody believes this is due to the fact that less than 2% of their festival patrons actually consume alcohol and that this is truly a family-friendly event.
“While we will explore an agreeable solution in the future, right now our focus is on putting the final touches on what we anticipate to be our most successful event yet,” said Goody.
Additional comment by Jill Lyon, Celtic Heritage Alliance
To clarify further the story from last night’s Newport City Council meeting concerning the Celtic Festival, we were not requesting a waiver of the fee. The ordinance clearly states that we are ineligible for a fee waiver because we have received tourism promotion funds (which of course, must be spent more than 50 miles from Newport, which makes the connection seem odd). However, the ordinance does not state that any event must apply for a permit and that its application should be sent around departments so that they can tack on bills – it states that costs are based on services “requested.” We were appealing the need for a permit at all, and for the policing services that had been added on.
We will, of course, comply with the Council’s decision. However, Chief Miranda stated last night before the Council that the Festival “pretty much runs itself,” acknowledged that there has never been an incident requiring officers and agreed that he had already signed off on our OLCC plan for managing alcohol consumption, which includes hired security and trained alcohol monitors. He specifically stated that he thinks that some additional police presence may be needed outside the Festival grounds – I assume, around the rest of Newport – and that the Celtic Heritage Alliance somehow is liable for that. We therefore do not expect to see Newport police officers patrolling inside the Festival; indeed, our special event permit now is predicated specifically on their being outside the Fairgrounds.
As for the use of volunteers, Newport Police Department Volunteers (NPDV) provide parking services for the Festival in exchange for being able to carry on fundraising through coffee sales, at a vendor booth the Festival provides at no charge. We have a good relationship with the NPDV and appreciate the group’s participation. I personally don’t quite understand how NPD will use volunteers to cover the additional police presence apparently needed outside the Festival, but that is outside my expertise.
Secretary of the Board
Celtic Heritage Alliance
The question of whether a permit and resultant fees are required under city law seems to be tied to whether the event requires an undue amount of attention by any city service.
– Public Works/Police – Blocking off of roads or streets, or unusually high amounts of water consumption or sewer service.
-Police – The sheer size of crowds that have convenient access to alcohol, possible violence and consequential medical repercussions, parking issues, noise.
– Police – The Celtic Festival is an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) permitted event and it is thereby appropriate for official law enforcement checks on-site as would be customary at any business establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. OLCC routinely relies on law enforcement reports to ascertain whether OLCC licensees are eligible to retain their licenses.
– Health Department – Monitoring food service safety and personal hygiene of servers and food handlers.
Legal discretion of permitting such events resides within the governmental jurisdictions rather than with special event groups who might claim that they don’t need those oversights, when clearly under the law they are required to comply.
Newport’s giant special event Seafood and Wine pays a permit fee due to the sheer size and complexity of it. Without enhanced municipal services and cooperation it’s questionable whether the event could be held at all.
Chief Mark Miranda and other city staff have determined that the Celtic Festival, although not nearly at the scale of Seafood and Wine, none-the-less has become successful enough that it has crossed the line of size and complexity that some of its elements trigger a permit and therewith fees. But those fees are not fixed. They are variable based on the actual added expense for the city having to make additional services available if needed – i.e. “at the ready.” That cost would be born strictly by the taxpayers if it were not for the permit and the attached fees. Discretion is given to city department heads whose employees would have to provide those enhanced “at the ready” services and their delivery if required. And even though some of those are volunteers, they drive city vehicles, are covered by city paid insurance and cause other expenses to occur.
It seems what we have here is an instructional moment – a disagreement between event organizers and those who represent the taxpayers over what are “reasonably required” and properly funded accommodations to ensure a high level of health and public safety at large special events. Reasonable people can disagree – certainly as in the case here. But someone has to make the call. The law gives that discretion to local government authorities.
Ultimately its up to the voters to make their wishes known via letters to the editor, run-ins around town and at the next election.