Clarion Borough Council Says ‘No’ to Downsized Autumn Leaf Festival
(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
The request included several scaled-down events, ranging from a Karaoke Night, live music, and food vendors to a “Merchant’s Day” that Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry Executive Director Tracy Becker said would hearken back to the earliest days of the festival.
“The craft show is not happening. That is a given,” Becker told the council.
“What we were looking at is making it a Merchant’s Day: go back to what we did 67 years ago where you have the businesses on Main Street come out and sell their items from the stores, but invite the farmers that are local to sell their stuff that they have in the fields, so to speak.”
However, while Becker reported the scaled-down events would follow state requirements and allow for safety and social distancing, many of the council members voiced concerns.
“I’m concerned that if we do this, on any scale, we’re going to increase the vulnerability…the risk…to our county, our livelihood, our lives, everything,” council member Brenda Sanders-Dede said.
Council President Carol Lapinto noted the decision was a particularly difficult one and asked borough solicitor John Marshall to weigh in.
“My understanding is that the current guidelines or protocols indicate that gatherings of over 250 people should not occur. Clearly, usually ALF and their events bring more people than that. In the package, the application that was submitted, there was no provision for how that would play out, or how it would be enforced, or how that was going to occur to limit the gatherings to that size. I believe there would be an enforcement issue as far as masks and social distancing guidelines,” Marshall said.
“I think if the borough endorsed the Autumn Leaf Festival this year and gave its blessing, it would be my opinion the borough would significantly increase their exposure to liability based on the current guidelines.”
Chief Peck also expressed concerns.
“Our officers have been exposed to it (COVID-19) directly, and we’ve had to take precautions, keep them off work,” Peck said.
“It’s been a cycle recently, and it’s been draining on the department, and I don’t want to have that occur again. And, I do have a couple of guys that aren’t real thrilled about it in the department, so that’s pretty much my position.”
Council member Rachel Roberts also expressed concerns about social distancing at the requested events in the spaces suggested.
“If you limit the space, you just have them (attendees) shoved like sardines in one tiny little area, so you can’t even social distance. Even if you only had 200 people in that tiny little space (South 6th Avenue from Main Street halfway to Merle Road), they’re going to not be able to be social distanced. Even with masks, you still should stay a good distance apart from one another.”
Becker said they were looking at having extra signage to remind those in attendance about the need for masks and social distancing.
“You can try your best, but as council, we have a responsibility to the citizens who live in the community to keep, to make the right decision so they’re not in harm’s way because of the people who choose not to wear a mask or choose not to social distance,” Roberts said.
Following the lengthy discussion of the concerns, the council voted on the request for a scaled-down version of Autumn Leaf Festival with one “yes” vote, and six “no” votes. Council member Ben Aaron was the lone vote in favor of approving the event.
“ALF means a lot to me, and it means a lot to everyone here,” mayor Brett Whitling noted at the end of the meeting. “But, I do agree with the majority of council that holding off on ALF in Clarion Borough is the right thing to do.”
“There’s been so many great memories of ALF in the past, and I look forward to next year to continuing to make new memories.”
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