City council talks potential end to Number Fest

Mill Fest March 14 Athens, Ohio
Mill Fest
March 14
Athens, Ohio

While Ohio University students kick back and recover from 13Fest, Athens City Council still has the event fresh on its mind.

At their weekly meeting, city council members held a “committee of the whole” to field questions and mull over issues related to the out-of-town fest that occurred April 18.

Along with council discussions, Athens Police Department Capt. Ralph Harvey recounted the department’s activity during that weekend.

“From Friday until Monday … we had about 140 calls for service, roughly, and there were a total of 17 arrests over the weekend,” Harvey said.

Three of those arrests were for operating a vehicle while impaired. One was on a domestic violence charge, and two were related to intoxication, Harvey said.

“We had one fighting charge … and it turned into an assault onto an officer and a police horse,” he said, adding that the fight arose over payment for a fest ticket.

Harvey said those numbers aren’t entirely unusual.

“That is on par for every other spring weekend for us,” he said.

With only five to 12 officers working the afternoon of 13Fest, Harvey said those statistics are misleading.

“We brought in a few extra officers that we would bring in any other weekend, a bit earlier … to supplement our traffic control issues,” he said.

Five of those officers were paid by Prime Social Group, the organization hosting the fest, and stationed throughout the town: one at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, two on streets on the way to the fest and two at the bus pick up locations.

Harvey said O’Bleness asked Prime Social Group to station an officer on the premises.

“That was a precautionary measure because they were overwhelmed down there,” he said.

Athens County EMS might have contributed to O’Bleness’ struggle.

Harvey said EMS reported it attended to 81 patients at the event, transported 26 to nearby hospitals and life flighted two festers from the event itself.

Though the department was largely understaffed for the weekend, Harvey said it didn’t have many problems with festers.

“Generally speaking, the crowds were not riotous,” he said. “I’ve dealt with seven riots in my career. (13Festers) did things that we wanted them to do.”

Though partygoers might have been complacent, that doesn’t mean that the fest came without a cost to the city.

Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said though the fest doesn’t take place within city limits, it comes with a price tag of about $30,000 to the city.

“We’re talking a police officer’s salary,” said Councilman Steve Patterson, D-at large. “We’re losing that, and that’s sad.”

Though some council members suggested implementing a system of calling in other police forces — like city officials do for Mill Fest and Palmer Fest — Harvey pointed out that the price tag would continue to rise, whether that be in actual dollars or in health of personnel.

“If we get all 25 officers or 23 officers out there, we can get things done out there, but there is a personnel cost,” Harvey said. “We have some officers doing 20 hours overtime on a two day weekend.”

Still, city officials pushed for higher police presence during the event in the future.

“We need the force that we had at Palmer Fest to address these issues,” said Service-Safety Director Paula Horan-Mosely, adding that could raise the cost to the city to $35,000.

City council at-large candidate Maxine Rantane asked if the bill could be sent to the sheriff’s office, which largely regulates the fest.

Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, responded concisely.

“We’d love to,” Fahl said. “The sheriff is the lead man who signs off on this.”

Despite suggestions from the community and city officials, police officials still didn’t have a concrete answer.

“Every year we learn something about any fest,” Harvey said. “I can’t say exactly what we can do, but we’re planning for a few things.”

Conversation shifted from raising police presence to what lay within council’s power to stop the fest.

“We’re all affected in some way, so we need to think about what we can do even though this is not in the city limits,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-at large.

Though there was no easy answer, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl tossed some ideas into the air.

“(Dominic Petrozzi, event organizer) has had nine to 13 tries to get (Number Fest) right, and he hasn’t,” Wiehl said. “The question is, ‘Do you want to kill it?’ And how do you do that?”

Talks ranged from annexing the property into the city and not allotting in an event permit to using city code to regulate events to asking OU to act.

Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, said OU should consider hosting Spring Fest again.

Replaced by street fests after Ohio raised the drinking age in the 80s, Spring Fest was a concert and festival hosted by the university during the Spring Semester after each individual green hosted its own fest.

Butler said Number Fest fit the hole left when Spring Fest was disbanded, and that Spring Fest might be the event the city needs to remedy issues brought on by the out-of-town fest.

He joked that hosting Spring Fest wouldn’t be difficult for the university.

“They already host large events in the fall. It’s called football games,” Butler said.

Council members said talk would continue with other officials from the county and university at a later date.

“We have a year to play and see what we can do with this,” Wiehl said.

Without an easy solution at hand, some Athens residents were left unsatisfied.

“It would be OK if we had one fest, but this is getting out of hand,” Rantane said. “We didn’t have safety in the city (during 13Fest).”

@emilybohatch

eb346012@ohio.edu

http://www.thepostathens.com/news/city-council-talks-potential-end-to-number-fest/article_99bcdbce-ed49-11e4-9fd3-9bb666456721.html

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