• Council tractor rule torpedoes annual event
BROOKINGS – There will be no Fourth of July parade in Brookings this year.
That’s unless a White Knight rides to the rescue and agrees to organize and underwrite the parade. Brookings Radio, which has sponsored the event as part of the annual Uncle Sam Jam, has said it definitely won’t stage the parade in 2012.
Despite an 11th-hour attempt by some councilors to reverse the decision that caused the sponsors to back out, Brookings Radio is calling it quits for this year, and probably permanently.
A terse exchange between the author of the safety measure that put the parade on hold and the deputy mayor didn’t resolve the problem, either – the council ended its discussion Tuesday by tabling the matter until its next meeting on June 12.
In the end, it all came down to a decision last year not to allow kids to ride on tractors.
The parade discussion was a late addition to the council agenda, and Kelli Hanson, Brookings Radio general manager, and Cami Powers, regional manager for Three Eagles Communications, responded with a letter to the city:
“For over 20 years, the staff at Brookings Radio has completely organized and handled the Fourth of July parade. A majority of our staff works the entire parade with lineup, setup and teardown. …
“We have done our best to follow and enforce city rules and regulations regarding the parade throughout the past years. Because of your decision last year to now enforce a regulation regarding passengers on certain moving parade entries, we no longer feel like we have the staff to continue to sufficiently police the entire parade route. …
“… We just don’t feel like we can take on the liability of the new regulations in regard to parades in Brookings with the small group of volunteers that we have available.”
Last year Councilor John Kubal had expressed concerns about “grampa holding a toddler in one arm and driving the tractor with the other,” and he persuaded the council to ban kids on tractors during the march down Main.
The “tractor passenger ban” was written into the rules, and it became a condition of the parade permit: violations would be enforced by Brookings police.
Even though the city assumed enforcement of the issue, Brookings Radio didn’t want the liability of policing the parade.
City Attorney Steve Britzman offered his opinion that “we have an adequate mechanism to control parade activities with policy; we have a permitting process …
“Personally I can’t see how this would be very difficult to regulate. … At the outset, if they (tractor drivers) follow the rules, there wouldn’t be anybody riding on that tractor. So I think that should take care of it. There wouldn’t have to be a parade sponsor watching so nobody gets on that tractor…
Councilor Jael Thorpe, serving as deputy mayor in Tim Reed’s absence, summarized Britzman’s comments: “We obviously have the ability to police this, and it would not be the radio station’s responsibility.”
Brookings Radio actually announced its decision last year, following a review of that event. Apparently, city leadership failed to note the change to the Fourth of July celebration.
Thorpe’s comments sparked a brief exchange between her and Councilor Kubal:
“I for one personally think it’s a little bit ridiculous that we even did this (prohibited tractor passengers). I mean, parades have been going on for a hundred years, with people riding on tractors. The people riding on these tractors have been driving them for probably 60-plus years. I think it just sends an odd message, that we are spending our time being concerned with this, and so I would absolutely support repealing the policy.”
“I guess what you’re saying then, Deputy Mayor Thorpe,” Kubal replied, “is that you have no problems with passengers of any age riding on a moving tractor. What brought this to my attention – and let me give you this as a theoretical situation: if you had a 2-year-old infant, would you be willing to put him in your grandfather’s one arm and let your grandfather drive the parade route with this tractor, operating it with one hand? If you can say yes, then I guess this (repeal) makes sense to me.
“Every bit of research – and I have looked into this thoroughly – I have never, never found anywhere where it says ‘yeah, it’s a good deal, take passengers on your tractor for a ride.’ If they intended a passenger to ride on a tractor, why isn’t there a seat for them?
“For somebody to ride in a parade on a tractor carrying a 2-year-old infant in one arm and operating the tractor with the other… From a safety point of view, that makes absolutely no sense. If a farm safety expert from SDSU can call up and say, ‘You know, Kubal, you’re being ridiculous. It’s fine; passengers take your kids on a joyride; it’s a lot of fun.’”
Kubal’s sharp retort caught the deputy mayor by surprise, but it didn’t fluster her.
“I just feel like it’s a decision that should be made by participants in a parade, by parents, by parade management. There are plenty of things associated with a parade that hypothetically could probably be dangerous, but at 5 miles an hour things are not very dangerous, and I just think that it’s not the role of city council to be mandating that. That’s my final comment.”
Kubal actually had the last word.
“Are we responsible for the citizens of our community if they want to do something that is stupid, but they choose to do it? … I guess we should say ‘OK, go ahead and do it?’
“… This is a bonafide safety issue, and unless somebody can tell me otherwise, I’m not gonna change my stance …”
Kubal said he might be sensitive to the issue because as a reporter, he wrote a “dreadful story” of a toddler who fell off a tractor. The tractor rolled over the child and killed him.
“We talk safety on this council. … ‘We’ve gotta err on the side of safety’ is what I’ve heard. I don’t know how many times I heard that. Well, if we’re gonna err in this instance, let’s err on the side of safety.”
There were just two public comments.
“I think if you start regulating things like that and try to control all that, soon you’ll have no horses in the parade …,” said Lisa Steenson. “There’s safety issues everywhere. I don’t think the people riding the tractors, certainly they don’t want anything bad to happen, and they’re taking cautious measures to make sure that it doesn’t. I just think when you start saying that about a parade, soon it won’t be a parade.”
Perry Miller, representing Brookings Radio, spoke as well, noting that “we said last July 27 that we would not be sponsoring this year’s parade with these rules and regulations in effect.” Even rescinding them now would be too late for station management to reconsider, he said. Staff has already made other commitments.
The key issue, Miller told the council, is that the council put the responsibility on the backs of the parade organizers when it put the rules into the parade permit.
“Put in all the regulations you need to,” he said, “but then you run the parade.”
The council does regulate other aspects of parades for safety. For example, tossing candy from moving vehicles to streetside children is forbidden.
Following several additional comments, Councilor Ope Niemeyer moved to table the issue until the next meeting. Only Mike McClemans voted no on the motion.
Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@-brookingsregister.com.