The last two virulent Black Diamond City Council meetings boiled down to this: the 102-years-old Labor Day festival is ready to go, and city code specifies that the council does not need to approve the celebration’s special event permit.
The heated debate over the Labor Day event began when a three-day special event permit appeared on the City Council’s agenda on July 21.
The resolution was voted down by council members Erika Morgan, Brian Weber and Pat Pepper, inciting disappointment and even anger from residents attending the meeting.
“We have never in the history of this city not had Labor Days approved on the day it came before council. Ever,” Mayor Carol Benson had said.
In response, Labor Days organizer Melissa Oglesbee submitted to the city three one-day special event permits on July 25. Benson signed the three permits July 26.
This in turn prompted a strong rebuke from Morgan, who said at the Aug. 4 meeting that approving three one-day permits could be unlawful under Black Diamond Municipal Code 2.59.040,.
The code states one day special event permits that are held in a single location can be signed by the city administrator, but special event permits that are held in multiple locations or span multiple days must be approved by the council.
“The discrepancy of the three one-day permits instead of the three day permit is a troubling erosion of a process… that could easily begin an unintended code adherence drift into other areas of the Black Diamond city code,” Morgan said, reading from a prepared statement. “This current treatment of the permit is probably a violation of the Black Diamond Municipal Code… If our process is ignored and there is an accident, there could be insurance repercussions.”
Morgan also said that she couldn’t find any record of the council ever approving a Labor Day special event permit.
When Morgan brought this point up at the July 21 meeting, former Community Development Director Barbara Kincaid said the permits were in the city’s records.
Morgan reiterated her point on Aug. 4.
“The special event permits for Labor Days have never come before the council in past years,” Morgan said. “The city website shows no record of it in past years council meetings.”
Morgan was correct, and Benson clarified in an Aug. 11 interview that the council has never approved a special event permit for Labor Days because city code exempts events like Labor Day from needing council approval.
Another part of the city’s code, 2.59.020, states that special event permits are not required for parades or other special events sponsored by the city of Black Diamond, including the annual Labor Days event.
Benson said Kincaid had misinterpreted the city’s code, which was why the permit was placed on the July 21 council agenda.
The mistake wasn’t caught until after Benson received and approved the three one-day permits from Oglesbee but before the Aug. 4 meeting, she said.
Looking back at how the Aug. 4 meeting went, Benson said someone probably should have announced the council did not need to approve any permits for the Labor Day festival, but she was trying to keep Pepper from approving the original three-day permit – an action Benson said would have been illegal.
Although the Labor Day festival isn’t required to be approved by the council, the city requires the organizer of Labor Days to submit a special event permit application for insurance and tracking purposes, since the event requires the state Department of Transportation to approve the closing of state Route 169 for the parade.
Weber wrote in a Aug. 15 email that this is a prime example why the council should have standing committees.
“The proper research could have been done and this issue resolved without causing any undue stress to the wonderful event volunteers or public,” he wrote. “Instead, this was made into political fodder and put forth to the public that the Council was somehow wanting to shut down the Labor Days event. This couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Morgan wrote in a separate email that there may still be issues concerning how Labor Days was permitted.
“The event is not wholly sponsored or conducted by the city and never has been to my knowledge,” she wrote, noting that the city is not listed on the Labor Day’s sponsor web page.
“It is better for the Council to approve the permit because that will close any argument that the City is not following its code,” Morgan wrote. “I always supported the Labor Day event permit, and I also supported doing the Council’s thorough public review process, but we were improperly denied the ability to send the permit to standard review on July 21.”
Other highlights from the meeting include:
• The $10,000 DKS Associates claim check for work done on the city’s Comprehensive Plan was again voted down by Morgan, Pepper and Weber.
The DKS claim check has been repeatedly placed on the council’s agenda since March.
Toward the end of the meeting, Economic Development Director Andy Williamson asked the council what they need specifically in order for them to be able to approve the claim check, saying the city’s departments are right now at a screeching halt.
“What we are missing is a statement from DKS that says, ‘the work that we provided up to whatever date will be satisfied by this $10,000’, or whatever the heck it is,” Morgan replied.
Williamson confirmed with Pepper and Weber that such a statement would allow them to approve the voucher.
• Former interim city attorney Yvonne Ward’s claim check for $14,784 was tabled for future discussion by Pepper, Morgan and Weber.
“I have some legal questions that need to answered by an independent legal source,” Weber said during the meeting, adding that the city’s current interim attorney David Linehan with the Kenyon Disend firm cannot answer his questions because his contract is similar to Ward’s.
Instead, Weber said he would like to hire outside legal council to answer his questions.
Councilwoman Janie Edelman said that hiring a new attorney would cost the city too much money.
Financial Director May Miller said at the July 21 meeting that the city has spent roughly 62 percent of its legal budget this year and predicted the city shouldn’t go over budget if controversy in the city slowed or ceased.
Benson said it was not in the council’s powers to hire an outside attorney, a topic that’s been debated in council for months since the council hired the Talmadge, Fitzpatrick and Tribe firm to represent them in April.
• A resolution to hire an official parliamentarian for the council was sent to a standing committee by Pepper, Weber and Morgan.
“You get a chance to do everything right procedurally, and they can help us control the meeting,” Pepper said. “And if there are problems, they can be asked for advice or to preside. This is something we really need to think about.”
Edelman and Councilwoman Tamie Deady both opposed the resolution, saying the city did not need another parliamentarian, pointing out that City Clerk Brenda Martinez and the interim city attorney can both act as parliamentarian.
Benson said she will deny the resolution if it’s approved by Pepper, Morgan and Weber because the council cannot hire a parliamentarian.